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By William Beckman, Executive Director –Illinois Right to Life Committee
Anticipating an executive order from President Barack Obama to expand Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, claims that science will now be encouraged rather than inhibited by “ideology” are being heard from supporters of this action.
Will such funding really help advance science? Bernadine Healy, former head of the National institutes of Health notes that several recent scientific breakthroughs “reinforced the notion that embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes, are obsolete.”
Healy suggests the remarkable advances of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) “are beginning to subsume embryonic stem cells.” On March 1st, scientists in Canada and England published a paper showing they had turned skin cells into iPS cells. These iPS cells have demonstrated equivalent capabilities of embryonic stem cells.
Even more significantly, their paper explained how they had successfully reprogrammed ordinary skin cells into iPS cells without the use of viruses to transmit the reprogramming genes to the cell. This new approach removes the risks associated with the residual viruses previously remaining in the iPS cells.
Is it really good use of Federal funds to support the obsolete science of embryonic stem cell research? Given the current sources of scientific progress, does not such use of Federal funding become just another “pork” project to pay off political supporters? Why not use the money where it can make a real difference with iPS, adult, and cord blood stem cells?