February 29, 2024

The Lancet launches embryo stem cell campaign

 One of the world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, has launched a campaign for human embryonic stem cell research as the UN approaches a debate on a cloning ban and US voters go to the polls. Its current issue is dedicated almost solely to medical, scientific and regulatory issues surrounding stem cells, with an editorial urging scientists to lobby hard for the cause. It also includes a profile of Australian stem cell scientist Alan Trounson and a personal plea from the father of a paralysed footballer. Ironically, the journal’s press release highlighted only progress in the field of adult stem cell research. However, the editorial declared that clinical applications for embryonic stem cells are around the corner.

"The attention focused on stem-cell research unfortunately comes at a moment when there are few tangible clinical benefits to report, although, as many of the papers in this week’s issue show, the field is advancing at such velocity that this evidence may not be far off," it argues. "Stem-cell researchers and other proponents are faced with a challenge: how to win back support for this important work with only promises to bargain with?"

The ethics of stem cell research was not covered in great depth. An American bioethicist, Carol Tauer, of the University of Minnesota, who is also an ethics consultant for the first company to clone a human embryo, Advanced Cell Technology, argues that a ban on reproductive cloning should not be linked to a ban on research cloning, as Bush administration has done. Each issue should be debated on its own merits. Given the current impasse on research cloning, the best option for the United Nations and the European Union seems to be a ban on reproductive cloning and silence on research cloning, she contends.

However, her views on reproductive cloning hardly represent mainstream thinking. The only unassailable objections to reproductive cloning are based on the safety of the child, she says. She appears to believe that the ban on reproductive cloning ought to be temporary, as there may be well-founded reasons to lift it once it become safe.