Monday, June 13, 2005


Penelope at The MaryHunter has found Dr. Frankenstein lurking at the center of the stem cell debate, and it's an explanation that makes the facts fall into place. First she acknowledges that the drug companies may like embryonic stem cells because they're patentable, whereas adult stem cells are not, but here enters the good Herr Doktor:
Plainly said: human embryonic stem cell research is just scientifically “sexier” than adult stem cell research.

Adult stem cells are interesting, but they are used in individuals. An individual donates his own tissue, the stem cells are gathered and manipulated and put back into that individual. Now the “gathering” and “manipulation” both take knowledge, skill, and loads of previous research to be done effectively. But the work is mostly in the details: which problem needs fixing in this patient, where can I find the stem cells, how can I get them to do what I want them to do in this particular case. In other words, once the basic research is done about how to “gather” and “manipulate,” the work is clinical.

Contrast that with embryonic stem cell research. There, the goal is complete control of completely plastic, multipotent cells. If it all pans out, a researcher would conceivably be able to manipulate a single cell line to develop into any tissue whatsoever! To be used in any patient! This kind of control and power is alluring. The fact that you would need intricate and complicated procedures (and probably just the right “touch”) to get the embryonic cells to behave properly makes that kind of research even more attractive. In fact, as I said, it’s downright sexy. What basic research scientist in the area could resist the pull?

I recommend the site in general; it's got some great stuff.

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