By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Good ethics and good science are an unbeatable combination. For example, I believe that in part due to President Bush’s keeping the focus on the value of human embryonic life, scientists looked for ways to get the hoped for benefits of embryonic stem cells, without destroying or cloning embryos. This led to the induced pluripotent stem cell breakthrough that takes normal cells, changes them to stem cells, and thence into other types of tissue. Now, an important IPSC study has shown that skin cells made into cardiac cells function well in the heart. From the FNN story:
In the first procedure of its kind, skin cells taken from patients suffering from heart failure were “reprogrammed” and changed into heart muscle cells. Not only were the transformed cells healthy, but they were also transplanted into the hearts of rats and were able to integrate with the existing heart tissue. Published in the European Heart Journal, the research examined the use of human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) to treat damaged hearts. HiPSCs are cells that are derived from other cells in a person’s body.
“We were able to show [in earlier studies] that you can take these hiPSCS from healthy heart patients and coax them into bonafide heart cells,” lead author Lior Gepstein, professor of medicine (cardiology) and physiology at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, told FoxNews.com. “The question we asked in this study was whether you can do the same from an elderly individual that had suffered from advance heart failure.” Because hiPSCs are derived from the person in need of the stem cells, they could potentially help to bypass the painful process of rejection that many transplant patients go through. According to Gepstein, if this process is perfected, it could lead to much more localized treatments . . .
And that could materially impact health care costs, if it works.
At this point, it is important to remember that any time you deal with pluripotent stem cells, tumors are a potential problem. And let us be clear: This isn’t near ready for the clinical setting, but rather, is an “important incremental step,” as a scientist quoted in the story notes. But that’s how science progresses; step, by step, by step.
Also, note the story illustrates the pressing need for animal research. Those, like PETA who say it should be forbidden would prevent these and other innovative research potential treatments from actually being tested in living organisms, since it would be unethical to start studies in human beings. Simple fact of life: Computer programs and cell lines don’t take us all the way home.