Two prominent scientific journals—Science and Cell—are each today publishing papers that demonstrate extraordinary success with a technique called “somatic cell reprogramming.” Working separately, and using slightly different methods, these two teams (one of which is led by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, the original innovator of human embryonic stem cells) have each successfully taken a regular human skin cell and transformed it into what appears to be the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell—all without the need for embryos, or eggs, or any other ethically controversial methods. The resulting cells (which they call induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells) have passed all the tests for “pluripotency” and seem to function just like embryonic stem cells. Again, they’ve done this in humans, not just in animals. Thomson’s team puts the matter plainly in the usual scientific deadpan: “The human iPS cells described here meet the defining criteria we originally proposed for human ES [embryonic stem] cells, with the significant exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos.” In other words: embryonic stem cells not from embryos. A "significant exception" indeed.This is incredible news that should excite everyone, regardless of one's view about ESCR. But don’t think for a moment that advocates of destructive embryo research are going to just go away. True, they say they want cures, but given their rhetoric on adult stem cell research, it seems they also want dead embryos. In short, this new (and indeed, exciting!) breakthrough will not resolve the bitter worldview conflict over what makes humans valuable in the first place. Are we valuable for what we are intrinisically or only valuable for what we can do instrumentally? We will still have to fight that battle, no matter what science gives us.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Yes, It's Great News, But...[SK]
Yuval Levin writes of a major scientific breakthrough that gives us embryonic stem cells without creating, then killing, embryonic human beings: