Tuesday, May 31, 2011

War against stem cell science continues

Religious nuts who think that a single-celled organism with no brain or ability to sense pain is the same as a third-trimester, new-born baby, have blocked embryonic and stem cell research in the US for decades with only occasional reprieves. The hope was that science would be able to do an end run around superstition by creating a kind of adult stem cell that mimicked an embryonic stem cell. These were called induced human pluripotent stemcells (iPS), and when they were discovered in 2007 many religious people declared that this proved that we didn't need human embryonic stem cell research. Well, the wingnuts have been proven wrong, yet again, this time in a UCSD medical trial. In the test, iPS cells were violently rejected as if they were foreign tissue, while embryonic stem cells were accepted into the bodies of mice. Unfortunately, however, congress has already banned federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, and conservative judges have sought to overturn president Obama's attempts to lift Bush era restrictions on the science. As a consequence, US biotechnology research has languished for decades, while other nations have shot ahead in perhaps one of the most promising areas of future medical research.

I have talked to many anti-abortionists, and none can give an intelligent, non-emotional, non-religious answer to why the use of stem cells from frozen embryos that would have been discarded, should be stifled. There are millions of frozen, fertilized ova in fertility clinics all over the US and people can only have so many kids. The excess remain frozen, up to a point, and are then tossed out. If it is "murder", as some right-winger insist, to do medical research on these cells, which are never going to be implanted into a mother anyway, then why are these modern-day Luddites unconcerned about the large numbers of frozen embryos that fertility clinics throw away on a daily basis? Why is it only of concern to them when people do research with them, as opposed to merely tossing them in the dumpster?

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