Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stem cell / brain tissue wizardry - without exploiting embryos

Interesting news in Nature magazine yesterday re the small disorganised clump of ‘brain tissue’ generated by human stem cells; note of course that no embryos were used, but the entirely ethical iPS cells (“induced pluripotent stem cells”) derived from human skin cells. That is the true state of stem cell science: embryo exploitation and cloning remains both wrong and redundant, now we have the iPS alternative.
Note the sleight of hand by the embryo experimenters who always smuggle in the impression that embryos are still kicking goals, when they are in fact on the bench and irrelevant. Prof Martin Pera, an Australian spruiker for many years in favour of embryo exploitation and cloning, on this morning’s ABC AM:

MARTIN PERA: What the authors of the study showed was that you could take human pluripotent stem cells, these are stem cells that can turn into all the tissues of the body, they can be derived from embryos or from adult tissues through reprogramming. But what they showed was that you can take these cells and develop them into three dimensional structures in a petri dish that are very, very similar to the developing human brain in the embryos.

Hmmm… Yes, they can be derived from both embryos and adult cells via iPS reprogramming, but the point is that iPS is essentially the only game in town now: embryos are so problematic - technically and ethically - compared to iPS as a source of pluripotent cells, and only the iPS cells match the patient. Therefore only iPS cells achieve the goal of patient-matched pluripotent stem cells.

A more informative response from someone like Prof Pera would have been, “This is another example of how useful iPS cells are, and how superior they are to embryonic stem cells in every day – we can derive them easily from a simple skin cell; they exactly match the patient; they have no ethical concerns attached. Embryos fail on all these counts. The public can essentially forget about the hoopla about embryos as the Holy Grail of regenerative medicine: that science is now no more than yesterday’s hype…”

Don’t expect such candour anytime soon from the embryo / cloning lobby. Too much ‘face’ would be lost by those who convinced the public and politicians in 2003 and 2006 that embryo experimentation and cloning was essential if children were to be cured of their afflictions etc etc etc.