Monday, January 08, 2007

Hooray for Amniotic Fluid!

A few months ago, I posted about a potential method of extracting embryonic stem cells without causing the embryo long-term harm. I was (and remain) unconvinced that the method would actually work. I also expressed the thought that such a procedure achieved nothing more than splitting an ethical hair... it still required an embryo as part of an IVF procedure, which in all likelihood would be destroyed anyway.

Now, there is a new report that I feel much better about on both counts. Researchers have found that a few stem cells, basically as powerful as embryonic stem cells, exist in the amniotic fluid, and can be extracted from there without causing any harm to the baby.

I am more confident that these results are reliable because they come from research universities, not a for-profit corporation. Maybe the difference is negligible in reality, but I think that universities probably have more long-term credibility at stake in making an announcement such as this, and therefore more motivation to make sure that it's accurate.

I am more pleased with the ethical advancement because the process is separated from IVF altogether. Why does this matter to me? Because I see IVF as, at best, a necessary evil. Maybe someday it will no longer be necessary. If so, there may just be debate about making it unavailable. In such a debate, IVF being a primary source of embryonic stem cells would be a very strong argument for its continuance. I am all for the use of stem cells... and I'd like our primary source of such cells (for both research and clinical usage) to be from a procedure that is not frought with ethical complications, as IVF is (in my opinion).

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


1 comment:

Kevin said...

It's good that we are exploring other avenues besides embryonic stem cells (ESC). Despite their toti- or pluripotency, my understanding is that ESCs have not been as promising as adult stem cells (ASC) due to compatibility issues and difficulty controlling their growth.

I think there's a lot of FUD out there about ESCs on both sides. AFAIK, Bush was the first to approve Federal ESC research and many of the cell lines he approved are still available for research (though presumably with less funding than what some people want), and furthermore, due to the nature of the cells, they can be multiplied.

Considering that these amniotic stem cells have already been differentiated into "muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells", which touches upon each germ layer, I thought they would meet the definition of pluripotent, but I guess there is more to it than that, since Atala does not make that claim with certainty.