A triumph of science.
Back-to-back breakthroughs in stem cell research that will each, in their own ways, shape the future of the field have dramatically demonstrated the rewards of unfettered scientific exploration.
Barely a week after Oregon researchers announced that they had successfully cloned a monkey embryo from the skin cells of an adult rhesus macaque and then harvested embryonic stem cells from the clone, scientists from the United States and Japan successfully reprogrammed human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells.
Unfortunately, the political ramifications of Tuesday's achievements threaten to overshadow the scientific progress they represent. Even more ominously, the minority who condemn embryonic stem cell research for religious reasons, which includes President Bush, already are using the most recent discovery to support a permanent ban on federal funding for all research on stem cells derived from human embryos.
That would be a terrible mistake, the minimum consequences of which would be delays to potential lifesaving treatments for any number of deadly diseases and devastating injuries.
Instead of acknowledging the wisdom of pursuing all productive channels of research, the White House adopted a smug "I told you so" justification for Bush's six-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
"I don't think there's any doubt that the president's drawing of lines on cloning and embryo use was a positive factor in making this come to fruition," Bush adviser Karl Zinsmeister said Wednesday.
Nice try, Spinmeister, er, Zinsmeister. But according to the scientists involved in the new research, the opposite is true. It took the existing research on embryonic stem cells - much of which was conducted in spite of the federal funding ban - to discover how to reprogram skin cells to act like embryos.
"My feeling is that the political controversy set the field back four or five years," said James Thomson, who led a team at the University of Wisconsin involved in Tuesday's breakthrough and who discovered human embryonic stem cells in 1998. Thomson said Bush's funding limits "represented very bad public policy as far as I'm concerned."
Everyone should be thrilled that scientists may have discovered a technique that will end the unproductive religious objections to embryonic stem cell research. But existing embryonic stem cell research has a nine-year head start, and clinical trials on treatments could come as early as next year.
Similar trials from the new technique are many years farther down the road, with no guarantee that they'll match the promise of embryonic stem cells.
Two-thirds of the American public, including many prominent Republicans, support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Tuesday's discovery isn't a victory for opponents of stem cell research; it's a victory for science.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; Researchers 'create' embryonic stem cells|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 23, 2007|
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