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  These embryos were originally made for reproductive purposes, but research that will end their existence is allowed on them.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  However the guidelines prohibit research on such embryos that were originally made for research.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.”

Stem Cells and The Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah had a show dedicated to stem cells. Her guests were Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and is an enthusiastic advocate for embryonic stem cell research, and Dr. Oz who seems to think that adult stem cells might be able to do all the heavy lifting for regenerative treatments.  He actually brought a brain to the show and showed the midbrain to demonstrate the cells that die off during Parkinson’s disease.

Unfortunately, something Dr. Oz does not mention is that cells introduced into the brain tend to be shielded from the immune system and any embryonic stem cell derivatives that were introduced into the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease are protected from the immune system by the blood-brain barrier.  Thus, Dr. Oz’s concern about immunological rejection probably does not apply to the brain, unless the blood-brain barrier is damaged.

See the exchange here.