Thursday, April 3, 2008

Embryonic Stem Cells - HOPE?

Human stem cell or bone marrow transplants are limited in their ability as treatment options especially regarding rejection issues. But the ability of developing embryonic stem cell therapeutic technologies to fill this void is just not reasonably feasible.

Stem cell research is all about money and not about finding a cure for anyone. Consider these three points:

1. Most, if not all large pharmaceutical company today are working in embryonic stem cell research. If you do not believe me, write a letter to every big drug company and ask them directly. You will see that this is a fact. Pharmaceutical companies use embryonic stem cells to create “disease state models” to find more drugs. More drugs mean more money. But you won’t find many major drug companies or investors providing major financial backing toward therapeutic embryonic stem cells technologies. The technology is just not feasible and will not make money.

2. The development of advanced genetic engineering technologies is the true power house behind embryonic stem cells. With our advanced genetic potential, embryonic stem cells can be used for basic research, drug discovery and, unfortunately, for “not-so-good” purposes as germ warfare. Associated with even the “good” research, however, is a public health threat from the unregulated BL2 viruses used in Pharma and academia to genetically modify human embryonic stem cells. Another realistic and disturbing possibility of using advanced genetic technologies with embryonic stem cells is the ability to clone humans. Theoretically, it is technically easier to clone a human being than to find a therapeutic cure to a disease (i.e., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.) from embryonic stem cell technologies. Cloning human life has horrifying ethical repercussions.

3. Despite the great advances in genetic advances, embryonic stem cell technologies are still very unlikely to be developed a successful therapeutic agent. The scientific limitation of the embryonic stem cell technology is due to a severe lack of understanding of what scientists call “differentiation”. In order to use an embryonic stem cell for a specific therapy, the researcher has to differentiate the cell into an exact and specific cell type. But this is far from simple. The mystery of differentiation is a complex phenomenon requiring positional cellular signals as the embryo divides. So trying to differentiate an embryonic stem cell in a test tube to an appropriate and safe cell type is a far reaching proposal. Not only do we not have any clear understanding of how differentiation occurs in the embryo in order to truly replicate it, but we also have no qualitative scientific method of characterizing a properly differentiated cell type. What looks like a neuron with presentation and detection of a few neuronal markers may actually NOT be a neuron. And if you do not have the correct and exact differentiated cell type, all types of ill effects, from metabolic disorders to cancer, can be produced. And even if it were possible to understand differentiation fully, then the problem of how to place the differentiated cell into the correct part of a human tissue to make it work becomes a whole other set of complexities. It is a sad fact that anyone undergoing future clinical trials with any type of embryonic stem cell therapy, better have a good last will and testament written.

I understand and feel for those who have a horrid disease and want to support embryonic stem cells in desperate hope of finding a possible cure. But unfortunately, embryonic stem cell technologies have little to no potential to be developed into any therapeutic agent, and therefore, should not be promoted as such. Doing so is unethical. It is a way to fool the public in order to get billions of dollars in public funding. It provides false justification for experimenting on human embryonic stem cells. Those billions of dollars could be better placed to help desperately ill people find real hope through alternative technologies.

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