2008 referendum may put research in peril
University science departments across the nation are eager to begin further testing and research on new skin cell cultivation methods, but some at CU are skeptical.
New research from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute reveals a new way to turn an ordinary skin cell in to what appears to be an embryonic stem cell, which would eliminate the step of destroying embryos for testing.
The new technique involves fusing a skin cell with an existing laboratory born embryonic stem cell. The process entails removing a single cell from an early embryo, a procedure that is already commonly done to test for genetic defeats.
“If scientists were to grow larger groups of stem cells from some of the single cells already being removed for genetic testing, they could really increase the number of cells used for research without putting any embryos at added risk,” said junior engineering physics major Scott Hoch. “Whatever can be done to decrease the destruction of embryos is good progress.”
Until now, researchers such as Professor Brad Olwin of the MCD biology department have isolated stem cells only from older embryos.
“With the new method fewer scientists will have to make embryonic cells from embryos,” Olwin said. “Though that would be great, I think right now the new method’s cells are just likely to be embryonic, it is not proven yet.”
Currently, CU labs are considering testing this research on mice.
“It would be interesting to see if we could take this embryonic cell, which isn’t technically unethical, and convince it to create muscles,” Olwin said. “In other words, tell them what to do.”
“Stem Cell Breakthrough: No More need to Destroy Embryos?” a National Geographic article by John Roach, published August 23, 2005 said before the breakthrough technique is viable, researchers must clear a technical hurdle: how to remove excess genetic information from the existing embryonic stem cell so it matches perfectly with the human patient.
“In order for the research to move forward with the new method we absolutely need to create embryonic cells from human cells,” Olwin said. “In order to better know if we could create them something other than from human embryos we have to find out if the skin cells could function as stem cells. Once this hurdle is over come then it will be real, although it will take at least 10 years.”
In the 2008 potential ballot referendums may appear that would allow “personhood.” This means a human being becomes a person upon conception, giving embryos constitutional rights.
In a December Chicago Tribune article, “Ethicists ponder embryo personhood” by Judith Graham it says though “personhood” is not considered to be a new way of arguing anti-abortion, if the embryo is declared a person by the Constitution, then the termination of its existence would be considered murder.
Not only would this further hinder testing for the new method in Colorado, as Olwin said, but also in Georgia, Montana, Oregon, Mississippi and Michigan where similar measures are being considered.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Clare Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org