Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Media Release: ‘Sperm from Embryonic Stem Cells’ – a wanton abuse of embryos



"The abuse of embryonic humans reached a sinister new low today with the announcement that scientists in Newcastle, UK, have derived functional sperm from embryonic stem cells" said Dr David van Gend, national director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research.


"This is an abuse both because of its implications – namely, that scientists can now exploit a dead embryo as a source of sperm – but also because it was entirely unnecessary to use embryos as the source of stem cells. That was an ethically wanton act, to use embryos when an uncontentious and superior alternative was available.


"If there is any medical value in learning to create sperm from stem cells – and there are some arguable uses – then this objective could have been met in an ethically uncontentious way: the sperm could equally well be created from non-embryonic stem cells. Indeed the Newcastle researchers are already working on creating sperm from iPS cells, without exploiting embryos: Time magazine reports that "Nayernia's group is now working on creating sperm from the skin cells of infertile men (the sperm cells in the current study were generated from embryos discarded by fertility clinics)"


"We know that iPS cells, derived from adult cells without ever using eggs or embryos, are the exact functional equivalent of ESCs. Anything an ESC can do, an iPS can do – with the further advantage that iPS exactly matches the patient. The sperm created from embryos are that embryo's sperm. The sperm created from an iPS cell are the sperm of the adult whose skin cell was transformed into an iPS cell, and then into sperm.


"One valid medical application of sperm-from-stem-cells would be to enable infertile men – perhaps victims of mumps in childhood, or cancer treatment as young adults – to regenerate their own sperm from their own iPS cells. When this is done with iPS cells from the man himself, that avoids the exploitation of an embryo, and keeps the relationship of father-mother-child intact, since the sperm cells would indeed be derived to the patient himself.


"Incredibly, the Newcastle scientists suggest that SCNT cloning is the way to go to achieve genetically-matched stem-cell-sperm for an infertile man.


"But it would be scientific (and financial) folly to attempt to clone a patient into his twin embryo, in order to extract its stem cells – a task that has never been achieved - and turn them into sperm cells, when one could simply scrape his skin and turn those cells directly into pluripotent iPS cells – a task that is routinely achieved - and thereby into genetically-matched sperm.


"The abuses of embryonic stem cell science must be ended now that we have, in iPS, a scientifically and ethically superior alternative. I look forward to the Newcastle group's paper showing the creation of sperm from iPS cells, not embryos", Dr van Gend concluded.            ENDS.