Friday, September 22, 2006

Stem Cells from "Dead" Embryos

According to this article at Science, some researchers in Europe report that they were able to develop human embryonic stem cell lines from embryos, left over from in vitro fertilization, that had ceased to divide. I'm not certain, but I'm assuming that they're dead or dying if they've ceased to divide.
In a paper published online yesterday in Stem Cells, the researchers report that they succeeded in generating pluripotent human ES cell lines--i.e., cells that can develop into many different kinds of cells-- from one of the 13 late-arrested embryos. To ascertain that they had stopped growing permanently, the scientists waited up to 2 days after the last cell division before trying to cultivate them. They then plated the embryos on a growth medium. Five of the 13 cultures generated outgrowths. And of these, two developed cells with ES cell characteristics. One of these was cultivated into a "fully characterized" human ES cell line, proving that it could differentiate into all three germ layers both in the dish and in live mice. The earlier-arrested embryos did not produce ES cell lines.
On the one hand, this seems like a decent compromise. They only use embryos that had ceased to divide, meaning that potentially viable embryos are spared the treatment.

On the other, there's a whole host of other concerns. There's always the fear that scientists or doctors will simply make embryos wholesale to be used for research. Alternatively, researchers might artificially "arrest" the development of the embryos to make them qualify for research. And for people who find IVF morally untenable, this is just another unfit solution.

If this is the best compromise we can get on ESCR, then I suppose I'll take it. The biggest issue will be regulating the harvesting. Time, and more research, will show the potential of this new development.


Anonymous said...

Do you feel that there is any kind of acceptable stem cell research at all?

Hal said...

Adult stem cell research is without ethical concerns. I have no concerns about it.

Embryonic stem cell research is ethically precarious because, in all cases, the only way to obtain the cells is for many, many embryos to die.

If the cells could be harvested without utterly destroying the embryo, then there would be no concern. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and the cells come at the cost of a developing life.

In this situation, it appears embryos already "dead" were used, removing some of the ethical concerns. However, because others remain, it is still uncertain whether this sort of technique will be palatable to the pro-life movement.

steve the troll said...


I hope you're a vegetarian, because if you eat meat, you're ending a life prematurely. I don't see how it's any different than employing a stem cell.

Also, doesn't the embryo sort of "live on" in the new host?

Anonymous said...

"Live on" the new host? Like one of those fishes who swims near the butt of a shark or a leech or something?

Hal said...

I do not consider animal life to be equivalent to human life, so "vegetarian" concerns are not my own.

And ESCs do not go to hosts as of yet, so they do not "live on". Even if they did go to other hosts, the individual life itself has been eliminated. An apt analogy might be the Borg from Star Trek: Though the physical body lives on after being assimilated, the life in question has been snuffed out.

steve the troll said...

There's no scientific basis for your arrogant view that animal life is not equivalent to human life. After all, you are just a monkey with a slightly larger prefrontal cortex.

I think this pretty much confirms that your world view is not a scientific one.

Hal said...

Actually, Steve, scientific world-views do not consider animal life to be ethically equivalent to human life.

Or perhaps you would care to explain to me why most scientific research is conducted on animals before being conducted on humans?

steve the troll said...

I don't think science tests on animals because they don't want to test humans...obviously if you want to cure cancer, you would test humans if you could. I think any good scientist would agree with that statement. Why they're not allowed to...well, you tell me.

Anyhow, my question is not an ethical one, I am just saying that killing a human is the equivalent of hitting a deer on the highway, though I would say killing a potential human is not as bad as killing a productive adult deer.

On a side note, it turns out that the war on Iraq has led to an increase in terrorism (source).

Y'all can start apologizing now.

Anonymous said...

Steve, way to not answer Hal's question "Or perhaps you would care to explain to me why most scientific research is conducted on animals before being conducted on humans?"

Your diversions are revealing. Particularly, the allusions that you make to the worth of a life in terms of the productivity of a life. The 20th century headed down that road, with chilling results. -Ryan.

steve the troll said...

Wait Anonymous,

I'm saying that all lives are of equal value, while Hal is waxing eugenics over here by saying that humans are of more value than animals, though he hasn't said why yet.

I blatantly said that I can't answer his question. I don't know the answer, because I see no legitimate reason why we don't test research that is designed to help humans on humans. Does it make sense to you? Are you trying to get me to say that it's because of neocons like Bush? Because it's definitely not me that's stopping science from wasting time and money.

Perhaps you could explain why we test for cancer treatment in rats when we're obviously not trying to cure rat cancer...

Anonymous said...

Okay Steve, I understand now that you sincerely don't agree with the practice of testing animals rather than humans in medical research. Previously, I thought you were being enigmatic, or I just wasn't sure exactly what you were saying. For now, I'll just make what I believe to be a highly uncontroversial assertion (ie, not worth researching & documenting unless you dispute it): That the ethical principles related to animal vs. human research are older than "neocons like Bush" and, while not universally held, are held far more widely than just among religious fundamentalists.

Steve, I'm looking for clarification / reconcilliation between two things you wrote:

"I'm saying that all lives are of equal value, while Hal is waxing eugenics over here ..."

And prior to that: "... I would say killing a potential human is not as bad as killing a productive adult deer."

Thanks. - Ryan.

steve the troll said...


1) You commented that I was presuming value of life based on productivity, when I can't find anywhere that I did that. I don't think an embryo is less valuable than an adult...I just don't think either has any tangible value.

2) By "productive deer" I meant a deer upon which other deer are dependent, whereby killing the adult, two fawns (that would otherwise survive) die and you've essentially killed three for the price of one.

Anonymous said...

Steve, if you have the time and inclination, I would be interested in your thoughts on this article about Peter Singer, a "utilitarian philosopher" who "says some humans—particularly fetuses, newborn babies, and elderly people suffering from dementia—should be killed if their deaths will reduce overall suffering."


steve the troll said...

Without having read the article yet, the article's premise sounds logical to me.

Anonymous said...

Wait, wait, wait...
Someone called in on a radio show once and said they would actually save their cat's life before they would save the host's life. Are we actually saying there is such validity to the idea that human life is equal to animal life that we actually are having this debate?
I just can't fathom that someone would thing that. Wow, just, wow.
What's next, condoning the death of all those that disagree with our viewpoint?
You know, as much as I dislike Republicans, the biggest thing keeping me from voting lefty is ACTUALLY HEARING LEFTYS SPEAK. It's like the not-so-ugly girl that you wanna hook up with, until she opens her mouth.

steve the troll said...

There is no debate, dude.

Humans are animals.

Get educated, and get over it.