Reprogramming Pro-lifer’s Minds – Part II

In response to the latest erroneous reporting on reprogramming of adult stem cell cells: Should Pro-Life People Object to Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells? http://www.lifenews.com/2012/10/10/should-pro-life-people-object-to-induced-pluripotent-stem-cells/  we offer our comments to Ms Taylor’s line of thinking which is grossly misinformed.  Beginning with her points, our comments of response follow….

Taylor:

So what are some of the pro-life objections I have been reading?

First, there is a concern that iPSCs are dangerous because it is possible they can be used for cloning purposes. The concern stems from work where scientists, testing the pluripotency of the cells, were able to grow a mouse from just iPSCs suggesting that induced pluripotent stem cells are just like cloning, on their own able to produce a human being. But looking closer you find that the scientists had to manipulate some of the iPSCs with something called tetraploid complementation, so that the iPSCs could become the extra-embryo tissues like placenta. So while cloning creates a complete human embryo capable, at least some percentage of the time, of implanting in a uterus and continuing to grow, reprogramming adult cells back to pluripotency (upon my reading) only creates stem cells, not a complete organism.

Our Response:

This is scientifically inaccurate.  Yamanaka himself noted the danger of being able to produce an entirely new embryo by reprogramming the adult cells back to the state of TOTIPOTENCY – that is the stage of a cell capable of forming all cells, tissues and organs PLUS entirely new embryos.

Taylor:
Second, there is an objection that the viruses used for the reprogramming were grown in a cell-line called HEK 293. Cell line HEK 293 was derived from the kidney tissue of a boy aborted in the 1970s. HEK stands for “human embryonic kidney.” The HEK 293 line was subsequently genetically engineered with viral DNA and is now available for sale from a common chemical supply. While I have never personally worked with HEK 293, I understand that this cell line is commonly used just about everywhere, which of course does not negate the ethical implications, but does shed some light on why HEK 293 was used in developing iPSCs.

Our Response:

They not only used HEK-293, but also IMR-90, MRC-5, Detroit 551 aborted fetal cell lines AND human embryonic stem cells: MEL-1 hesc. http://www.millipore.com/catalogue/item/scc020

Taylor:
The objection of course is that by using HEK 293 to grow virus used in the technique, all iPSC research is morally tainted. To some extent that is true for early research, but scientists are getting away from using viruses for the reprogramming, so iPSC research can be free of this particular stain.

Our Response:

This is simply not correct.  Scientists continue to use both aborted fetal and embryonic stem cells in their experiments.

Taylor:
Analogously, vaccinations are commonly grown in 2 cell lines derived decades ago from aborted fetuses. Since no new abortions are needed to keep these cell lines going and vaccines are generally seen as vastly improving public health, Catholics can vaccinate their children if they ask for alternatives and voice their objections.

Our Response:

Apples and oranges: you cannot compare vaccine recipients to the researchers.  The Vatican is implicitly clear that the use of the cell lines by researchers is illicit.  Citing Donum Vitae, Dignitas Personae and the PAFL:

Dignitas Personae 35:
Therefore, it needs to be stated that there is a duty to refuse to use such “biological material” even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed the artificial fertilization or the abortion, or when there was no prior agreement with the centers in which the artificial fertilization took place. This duty springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life.”

Evangelium Vitae 63:
“[T]he use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person”.54 These forms of experimentation always constitute a grave moral disorder.55

Donum Vitae PAFL I:4:
“The corpses of human embryos and fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings. In particular, they cannot be subjected to mutilation or to autopsies if their death has not yet been verified and without the consent of the parents or of the mother. Furthermore, the moral requirements must be safeguarded that there be no complicity in deliberate abortion and that the risk of scandal be avoided”

PAFL 2005: Pg 7
“As regards the preparation,  distribution and marketing of vaccines produced as a result of the use of biological material whose origin is connected with cells coming from foetuses voluntarily aborted, such a process is stated, as a matter of principle, morally illicit, because it could contribute in encouraging the performance of other voluntary  abortions, with the purpose of the production of such vaccines.”

Taylor:
It is my opinion that the same applies here. I object to the use of HEK 293 for research period. Please, scientists, find a suitable alternative. That being said, it is possible that iPSCs in the future can be free from any moral taint coming from DNA or cell lines derived from illicit origin.

Our Response:

And why would scientists switch to moral cell lines as long as people continue to say its okay to use the existing methods?  This is her opinion indeed – but certainly not Catholic opinion. As stated, the use of aborted fetal and embryonic stem cells by researchers is illicit and it will not end until it is soundly condemned as such.

Taylor:
Another objection is the iPSCs are just like embryonic stem cells and so are no good for treating patients. It is true that because iPSCs are pluripotent like embryonic stem cells they will likely have many of the same safety issues for transplantation. More research is needed. What iPSCs are good for is creating model tissues for scientists to use to study disease progression and treatment. As I have written before, previous to iPSCs, scientists would have to create a mouse or other animal that exhibited the symptoms of a human disease that they were interested in studying. Now they can take a skin cell from a person with a disease, reprogram that cell back to a pluripotent state, and then differentiate them into cells of interest whether they be neurons or fat cells. iPSCs can continue to grow in culture and be frozen giving researchers a nearly limitless supply of diseased cells to work on. This is especially useful in brain disorders because isolating neurons from the brain of a patient is dangerous. Scientists can use the iPSCs to generate tissue used for testing new drugs or other methodologies in the fight against disease.

Our Response:

Scientists have not “generated tissue” nor have they shown they could do so in any iPS cell research without using immoral sources.  There is no science documentation to back such a claim.

Taylor:
Another objection is that iPSCs have been used to generate gametes for IVF in animal models. This is true. Scientists have created mouse egg and sperm with this technology and then used them to create mice. Some pundits are talking about using this technique to allow gay couples to have genetically related children. I see this as a problem not with iPSC technology per se, but as a problem with the fertility industry that has an anything goes attitude toward procreation. Get the fertility industry under control with some regulations prohibiting genetically modifying or manipulating gametes and embryos and this objection evaporates.

Our Response:

Taylor misses the central concern because not only is this a fertility issue, it allows full production of embryos that will be destroyed for their stem cells.  The point is that full blown cloning is not only possible, it has already been done by producing both ovum and sperm with iPS cells.  So “getting the fertility industry under control” does not solve the problem!

Taylor:
Stepping back and looking at the big picture, iPSCs I believe are something pro-lifes can be happy about with the knowledge that their history is not perfect. But remember that before iPSC technology, the talk was of nothing other than destroying IVF embryos and creating and destroying embryos through cloning as the “best” ways to develop stem cell cures. Now we have an alternative, developed directly as a way to avoid creating and destroying embryos. Which is why moral theologian Father Thomas Berg praised the work of Dr. Yamanaka for helping to “put human embryonic stem-cell research largely out of business.”

Our Response:

If indeed Fr Berg knows the truth about the use of aborted fetal and embryonic stem cells in iPS cell research and still praises it, that position would be contrary to Catholic teaching.

To say that scientists will no longer need embryos is foolish fallacy and wishful thinking as reported:  “We agree with Dr. Jamie Thompson, who published the first two studies on iPS with Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, that we must continue work on hES while pursuing iPS. Thompson cautioned that researchers still “must confirm that the reprogrammed human skin cells really are the same as stem cells they get from embryos. And while those studies are under way…it would be premature to abandon research with stem cells taken from human embryos.”  http://www.americansforcures.org/article.php?uid=1154

Taylor:
I think that is reason to celebrate.

Our Response:
Don’t be offended if pro-lifers don’t raise a toast with you.

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