Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stem Cell Triumph

There's been much debate over the past few decades about the moral propriety of stem cell research. The problem has been that researchers coveted stem cells obtained from human embryos which meant that the embryo was destroyed in order to produce the cells. This was seen by many as morally problematic and so research was begun on obtaining stem cells from other sources. There were many technical difficulties and critics were quick to point out the need to use the much more pliable embryonic cells for the research.

Nevertheless, work continued on alternatives and now comes word that an almost fully-formed human brain, albeit of the size of that of a human fetus, has been grown from stem cells harvested from skin.

Here's part of the story from The Guardian:
An almost fully-formed human brain has been grown in a lab for the first time, claim scientists from Ohio State University. The team behind the feat hope the brain could transform our understanding of neurological disease.

Though not conscious the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old foetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development.

The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is engineered from adult human skin cells and is the most complete human brain model yet developed, claimed Rene Anand of Ohio State University, Columbus, who presented the work today at the Military Health System Research Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Previous attempts at growing whole brains have at best achieved mini-organs that resemble those of nine-week-old foetuses, although these “cerebral organoids” were not complete and only contained certain aspects of the brain. “We have grown the entire brain from the get-go,” said Anand.

Anand and his colleagues claim to have reproduced 99% of the brain’s diverse cell types and genes. They say their brain also contains a spinal cord, signalling circuitry and even a retina.

The ethical concerns were non-existent, said Anand. “We don’t have any sensory stimuli entering the brain. This brain is not thinking in any way.”
There are more details at the link. Wesley J. Smith at Evolution News and Views comments succinctly on this development:
May it be so. Now let's analyze what this breakthrough could portend.
First, no need for unethical human cloning to derive cells for use in research and drug testing.
Second, no need for fetal farming for experimentation and organ transplants.
Finally, no need for Planned Parenthood dismemberments of fetuses killed in a "less crunchy" way.
Remember when embryonic stem cells were OUR ONLY HOPE? And how those of us who said that particular meme wasn't true were "anti-science"?
Actually, I recall worse pejoratives than "anti-science" being hurled at opponents of embryonic stem cell research. When President George W. Bush cut off federal funding for embryonic stem cell research he was called names which were much less polite. It's nice to see this vindication of those who stood for the principle that "all lives matter," even the lives of embryonic human beings.