Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stem Cell Restrictions Lifted

New court ruling was filed today, issued by Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. allowing the United States government to continue financing stem cell research for cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's over public comments on the destruction of embryonic stem cells. The full court ruling is available here Dr. Shirley vs. Sebelius et al. (.pdf format). It's a major victory for science today but there's a lot of public misconception about what stem cells actually are and how human embryos are involved. Let's do a quick overview before we go into the politics of it, shall we?
Stem cells can become any sort of cell in our body.
Every cell in our body is a descendant from a pool of unspecialized cells in the human embryo. Human embryonic stem cells grow, divide, and transform into to every cell in our body. Thus, they have the potential to act as the raw material for repairing damaged tissue affected by injury or disease. As much as these hESCs hold promise for the future of medicine, they are not identical genetic matches with their recipients, making it very likely that the hESCs will trigger an immune response against them.

hESCs are one type of three different cells, the other two being adult stem cells and induced stem cells. hESCs are produced via "derivation," a process which yields "lines" that replicate indefinitely for use in scientific research. In contrast to hESCs, which can become any cell in the body, adult stem cells are limited to only producing certain types of special cells. The third type is the induced stem cell, where viruses are used to force adult cells into pluripotency. By taking cells from an intended recipient and inserting 3-4 genes into it, scientists can reprogram the cell so that its development is reversed, and it becomes similar to a hESC. Not only can induced stem cells become any cell type in the body like hESCs, they do not trigger an immune response because they are a precise genetic match to their recipient. By coaxing adult stem cells to behave more like embryonic cells and thus restoring pluripotency, the limitation on which tissues can be formed from adult cells is circumvented. Despite this breakthrough, one of the genes inserted in the process of induction is associated with cancer, and there are no methods as of now for targeted recombination. The gene is inserted into the genome (the DNA) at random, which presents risks. Some progress has been made, with one paper using transposons from insects to put in and subsequently remove the carcinogenic gene from the genome.

The National Institute of Health has recognized the promise that stem cells hold for medicine, and "believes that it is important to simultaneously pursue all lines of research."

However, research's progress is hindered by fierce political debate in Washington, with politicians arguing over the fate of these unspecialized, pluripotent cells for the past 60 years. Ever since stem cells were discovered, the debate has been fierce, as there are many issues involved, from the legality of stem cell research, to the tax dollars that it requires, to the ethical issues involved with derivation (which destroys the embryo). Take a look at the Dickey-Wicker amendment, enacted yearly since its introduction in 1996, which states:
(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or
(2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, 
discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death  greater 
than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under 45 CFR 
46.204(b) and section 498(b) of the Public Health Service Act (42 
U.S.C. 289g(b)).

This amendment defines an "embryo" as “any organism, not protected as a human subject under 45 CFR 46 as of the date of the enactment of this Act, that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes or human diploid cells.”

NIH subsequently received a memo from a government attorney, Harriet S. Rabb, stating embryonic stem cells “are not a human embryo” as defined by the Amendment. Ms. Rabb states stem cells “are not even precursors to human organisms,” because stem cells can only develop into different cell types within the human body, while embryos can potentially develop into human organisms.

More than 10 years later, President Obama has issued this memorandum (, stating that the government will give more power to the scientists in terms of in what direction research is to take. In Obama's Executive Order No. 13,505, it states that the “[NIH] may support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law."

"President Obama is committed to supporting responsible stem cell research and today's ruling was another step in the right direction," said his deputy senior adviser Stephanie Cutter.

With all of this in mind, do you support stem cell research? Do you think induced stem cells hold promise, or disagree with that, and believe that they "hold great peril," in the words of President Bush? Make your voice heard and comment below.

69 scientific replies:

ChazWellington said...

So stem cell research is legal now? thats good news but i hope that our money wont go to waste with this research

Jerrick C. said...

I can see so many positive things coming from stem cell research from creating organs for transplant to reversing aging it's full of possibilities. great post +followed

hommakesgames said...

I can understand why, if somebody believed that human life began at conception, that they may think that creating embryos specifically for research is wrong (I don't agree) but what I really don't get is why they don't want any research done on ANY embryo. It's like if an embryo has been created through whatever means, and it is going to die regardless of whether we do research or not (eg. excess embryos from IVF) then whats the problem with doing the research?? It's like if you believe in god, then god is going to kill this embryo either way, so we may as well learn what we can.

Initiate-D said...

If they could get a Really cure to cancer it would be awesome ! My mum had it for over 7 years..

Jammer said...

I am currently doing the folding@home project. My computer has been on for 24/7 for 4 years. Here is the wiki page There will be a cure for many cancers and Alzheimers disease. Google has a Folding@home team, they are number one in results.

Thoon said...

Finally. Now maybe America can make some progress with this.

That Bastard From Bellingham said...

FINALLY!!! Not only do I support stem cell research, but I support most forms of biotechnological research.

Honestly I've always viewed our current times (the past eleven years) one of unnecessary stagnation. Genetic research, as is all science, is the future of mankind and for good or ill we need to grasp it instead of holding it at arm's length with our eyes closed hoping it goes away.

Some of us remember when the media in general promised us flying cars and catgirl sex slaves by the year 2000. I am one of those who are highly disappointed and even hostile because for whatever reason (coughcoughreligiouscough) these have not come about.

But I don't really wanna get into it here on your blog, especially since I'm a new follower to it. All I'm sayin' is that there are tens of thousands of possible donors out there where the material would be just destroyed. Instead it can go to save millions, but a select few want it held back?

I remember a similar situation occurred during the Depression Era, when farmers were forced to burn food crops while starving people looked on from behind fences.

To me THAT is morally unacceptable...but! Butbutbut, that's been overturned? Science and research will be allowed to go forward beyond the purely pharmaceutical range?

Oh shit yeah, son, I'm ALL about this!!

Max Silver said...

FINALLY! I've been waiting for this for years!

Major.Mack said...

yeah thats good news

GENETICS said...

@That Bastard: I appreciate your insightful comments. I think part of the reason federal funding favors pharmaceutical companies is that the latter makes a lot of money, and they use that money to direct more funds and tax breaks to them. It's like a revolving door. It's just how politics works. There's lots of books on the interconnectedness of politics and corporations (just look up revolving door), but it's beyond the scope of this post. Inciting religion is just used to make the masses emotional and unable to think about the corruption and common sense of stem cell research.

GMSoccerPicks said...

This is GREAT news, seriously. The possibilities are unlimited. This could be a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer and other illnesses.

Hento the loony repairman :D said...

aw imagine growing cells to cure your sick infected ones, aid your failign body and give yourself a few more healthy years!, i know it ownt be magical but this is the way to the future! thanks!

hommakesgames said...

Hey man, just wanted to say I really like the latest layout, it looks kind of cleaner, especially the banner. It looks good!

Noises said...

I hope sience can go faster forward

SoreLosersGaming said...

I'm glad about this. That the research was restricted was a bit of a joke since there is nothing wrong with it.

T Papar said...

good news. i hope we can see some practical results in the near future!

Bigshanks BSc said...

Im kind of glad! We got a post around about this in my research centre, loads of jobs are now available in stem cell research! Was thinking of doing a mini course in it and now I think i'll have to to keep up!

xxmugenxx said...

I dont see why they are so restrictive on the research, unless they start developing zombies I dont see any problem.

GENETICS said...

@xxmugenxx: Zombies would be awesome! You're hilarious. @bigshanks bsc: yes! I took a course in molecular genetics and stem cell internships were like 25k in stipend money a year!

Diego Sousa said...

great news to science, and mankind

Batow said...

Awesome post. It's always good to keep informed, especially when that's so good news.

Viitoebe said...

If they'll find some way to cure the cancer, i'll be really happy.
All my family died for cancer, we're German and really white. So I hope when I get mine, the cure already exists.

Electric Addict said...


Shaw said...

Yay! Common sense prevailed!

Stone Computer Services said...

I support stem cell research 100%! We will never know what we can achieve if we don't try!

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

Good news! Hopefully it wont result in rich old people living forever with their new body parts.

BigOryx said...


DM said...

This is great news!

AgusFan said...

Awesome! it's really great news, thanks for your information!

convictus said...

glad to hear science beating out ignorance once in a while.

wolvz said...

wow, that is a great progress in the researches! didn't know they have come this far... this are really great news indeed!

Kaneda said...

As long as there are certain moral guidelines being followed, I definitely think it's a good thing.

epictacoman456 said...

That's good. Hope people can gey cured now from those tragic dieseases

thomau5 said...

i cant even imagine a world where cancer has been cured. but the thought that it could happen because of this research makes me think that it is worth it

Candle said...

Wow, I see it like a awesome new. The more people get cured, better! :]

julianna1633 said...

finally something new to follow thru to

Bremsy said...

I trust in the scientific minds of the world and if they say that it can cure all kind of disease I'm taking their word over some activist groups that are predominantly christian and are opposing it not because it's wrong but because it's wrong according to their belief, yet they fail to acknowledge the good that may come out of it...

and besides this is a very touchy subject in the USA not so much in Europe..

cool_cicler said...

Great. Some of the facts you wrote about were very interesting.

Pieter MD said...

Nice to hear :)

DanPerry said...

It's about time !
Great post ! Btw like the blog, followed and supported ^^

Sketchar said...

Well this will be interesting how this will turn out.

FeurFenix said...

I think this can only be a good thing, scientific research should not be held back by cranky people who think that a collection of a few cells should be considered the same as a person.

Gryt said...

I haven't heard much about stem cells recently, but I remember that we thought they would be able to do big things a while ago. I really hope that we can find a lot of good uses for them now

Bulletproof Zombie said...

I am a massive fan of stem cell research, as I believe that the embryo--or even just the precursors to these cells--are not a human being, in the same line that an acorn is not a tree. I fully support the progress that will hopefully be made by the removal of this obstacle, and look forward to the medical breakthroughs that will now shift gradually into a tangible format.

I would not have become aware of this for some time, so thanks for blogging about it.

GENETICS said...

@Bulletproof Zombie: I'm glad someone from the UK supports the progress of US politics and science, which is needed after they shut down the shuttle program (without a good replacement). I checked out your music, very eclectic mix!

Anonymous said...

Embryonic Stem cell research was not illegal. Obama did not make it legal. Obama allowed more lines of stem cells to be available for research. If anything the Bush rules forced other types of stem cells to be used for research and amazing discoveries were made. Some of those may not have been made if it were not for limits on embryonic lines.

GENETICS said...

@Anonymous: You're completely right, and I don't think anyone (at least from reading the comments) had the impression Bush outlawed stem cell research.

Chris said...

Great news! I'm happy!

LaezE Boy said...

I honestly believe that it's about time we finally agreed on something good for people instead of bickering over the ethics and politics of it.

Tachu said...

Great to hear this, hopefully a cure for my diabetes is closer.

Rafał said...

Now i'm only waiting for elixir of immortality;)

i_love_weed said...

smart people: 1
idiots: 0

there was really no reason to restrict this research x(

Canihas said...

good step forward in removing the influence of counterproductive religion in science. good content. +followed

nowaysj said...

I'm sure this is just a set back, we'll be returning to the dark ages shortly.

MentesenlaRed said...

Excellent News.. I hope it goes on!

Stem cells treatment said...

Stem cell therapy is an intervention strategy that introduces new adult stem cells into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury.

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