My response to Obama’s Executive Order

This executive order violates the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which states that “none of the funds made available in the Act may be used for – 1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or 2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.” This executive order seeks to fund embryo-destructive with federal funds, which is a direct violation of the Dickey-Wicker amendment.

Secondly, the executive order does nothing to limit reproductive cloning. It trades on the alleged distinction between “therapeutic” and “reproductive” cloning, but there is no difference between these two types of cloning when it comes to what is made. Cloning is a form of asexual reproduction, which is essentially what happens during twinning. Yet we do not set twins aside for destructive research. The fact is that all cloning creates a human being and this executive order approves the production of human beings solely for the purpose of killing them. This is simply barbaric.

Third, even though the order says that it will “lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research,” there never was a ban on such research, only a ban on research that destroyed new embryos to make new lines. The pejorative manner in which this is phrased might make good copy, but it is historically disingenuous.

Finally, the order states that embryonic stem cell research will be funded “only when it is …scientifically worthy.” The problem is the induced pluripotent stem cells are putting classically made embryonic stem cells out of business. None of this embryo-destructive research is necessary.

A recipe for heart cells from amnion

Embryonic stem cells can be made from adult cells. Such cells are called iPSCs or induced embryonic stem cells, and they have all the characteristics of embryonic stem cells made by means of the destruction of embryos.

Lately, scientists have found a way to convert one type of adult cell into another type of adult without going through any embryonic step.

Qi Zhou and his colleagues from the Melton lab at Harvard were able to transform pancreatic enzyme-secreting cells (exocrine cells) into insulin-secreting cells by inserting three transcription factors (Ngn3, also known as Neurog3), Pdx1 and Mafa into the exocrine cells and they reprogrammed themselves into beta-cells (Nature 455, 627–32 (2008)). Also, Yechoor and his colleagues used a similar technique that placed neurogenin into liver cells in a live animal. These animals shows insulin-secreting cells into their livers, which showed that the liver cells had been reprogrammed into beta cells (V. Yechoor et al., Dev. Cell 16, 358–73 (2009)).

This shows that reprogramming is vastly superior and cheaper than making cloned embryos that we subsequently kill and use to make embryonic stem cells. This is the therapeutic way of the future.

Now, Jun Takeuchi and Benoit Bruneau at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco have found that adding cardiac-specific genes to developing mouse embryos can make even some extra-embryonic parts become beating heart cells.  They made the cells from amnion, the thin layer that surrounds the embryo and fetus throughout development.  This is the sac that breaks when we say that a mother’s water breaks.  The amnion is normally medical waste, but can now be used to make heart cells.

See this link for the paper.

New NIH Guidelines for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Melinda Penner evaluates the new NIH guidelines for embryonic stem cell research and this site: here.  It is a very interesting evaluation.

The guidelines allow the use of surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization cycles for the production of embryonic stem cells.  These embryos were originally made for reproductive purposes, but research that will end their existence is allowed on them.  Embryos that were made by somatic cell nuclear transfer are usually made for the purpose of research.  However the guidelines prohibit research on such embryos that were originally made for research.  In others the guidelines allow research on embryos originally not made for research and prohibit funding for research on embryos made for the purpose of research.  In this regard the guidelines are inconsistent.

However, the guidelines seem to regard embryos as expendable.  That creates a society where the weakest members of our species are perpetually at risk.  To justify killing them, we use arguments like “they are going to die anyway.”  Such are argument was used by Scrooge in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.”  When asked for a donation to help the poor at Christmas time, Scrooge said that the poor and homeless should hurry up and die and “decrease the surplus population.”  We would regard such an attitude and inhumane, but when it comes to those who are a little younger than the rest of us, it is somehow perfectly acceptable to destroy them.  I refuse to call such reasoning “moral progress” or such a policy “wise.”