March 1, 2024

Ethical speed bumps ahead on the stem cell highway

iPS cells are more promising than hESCs, but they have their problems, too

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells both solve and create ethical problems, say stem cell researchers
in the journal Stem Cells and Development. Maureen
L. Condic and Mahendra Rao point out that human embryonic stem cells
(hESCs) face a number of ethical and regulatory difficulties which iPS cells do

Although many scientists thought that
President Obama would effectively deregulate hESC research and allow abundant
funding to flow in, this has not happened. Even though he is not opposed to
this research, he is hamstrung by public opinion and existing laws Furthermore,
work on hESCs in the US is constrained by patents, putting American scientists
at a comparative disadvantage with Europeans scientists. However, iPS cells
face little opposition and progress on them has been rapid.

“While definitive evidence for clinical-grade,
‘zerofootprint,’ personalized iPSCs that have been produced using clinically
approved procedures remains to be obtained, scientists appear well on the path
to success and we look forward to reporting on such results in the near
future,” say the authors.

Still, as work in iPS cells progresses, it
is becoming clearer that it will eventually pose serious ethical problems. Scientists
have made rapid progress in creating viable human eggs from iPS cells. This
makes it possible to envisage nightmare scenarios. “The ability to produce
millions of mature human eggs in the laboratory raises the specter of producing
enormous numbers of human embryos for research, or even for industrial
purposes. Clearly, the isolation of stem cells from the female germ line
prompts the need for renewed debate over the appropriate uses of human eggs in
the laboratory and the ethics of generating human embryos solely for the
purpose of scientific research.” ~ Stem Cells
and Development, Apr 1

Michael Cook