Studies published this week in the journals Cell and Science offer new hope for advancing stem cell research and therapies while fully respecting the dignity of human life. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, considers this a "major breakthrough."
Scientists in Japan and Wisconsin used four genes to 'reprogram' ordinary adult human cells, creating 'induced pluripotent stem cells.' Dr. James Thomson, head of the Wisconsin team and the founder of human embryonic stem cell research, says these cells 'meet the defining criteria' for pluripotent human embryonic stem cells, 'with the significant exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos.'
As Cardinal Rigali says, "Thus the goal sought for years through failed attempts at human cloning - the production of 'pluripotent' stem cells that are an exact genetic match to a patient - has been brought within reach by an ethical procedure. This technology avoids the many ethical landmines associated with embryonic stem cell research: it does not clone or destroy human embryos, does not harm or exploit women for their eggs, and does not blur the line between human beings and other species through desperate efforts to make human embryos using animal eggs."
Ian Wilmut, head of the team that cloned 'Dolly' the sheep, now says he is abandoning efforts at human 'therapeutic cloning' to pursue this adult cell reprogramming avenue instead, because it is technically superior as well as 'easier to accept socially.'
This appears to be a very significant development and the world will be better off with the medical discoveries that are now much closer to our reach.