I woke up early Sunday morning to a barrage of news headlines.
Newsweek: “Stem cells derived from amniotic fluid show great promise in the lab and may end the divisive ethical debate once and for all”
The Washington Post: “Stem Cells Discovered in Amniotic Fluid”
Los Angeles Times: “Stem Cells In Amniotic Fluid Show Great Promise, Study Says”
Apparently researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University have found that amniotic fluid is a rich source of stem cells that “hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells.” These cells are also found in the placenta. So take note, from one baby we have three sources of stem cells: amniotic fluid, placenta and umbilical cord blood.
The press release on the Wake Forest website states that, “Scientists Discover New, Readily Available Source of Stem Cells”. Dr. Anthony Atala, senior researcher and director of the Institute of Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest said that the amniotic fluid stem cells (AFS) create muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells, they are easily grown in large quantities because they double every 36 hours, they do not produce tumors and can be grown without the need for feeder cells. In the past, scientists have complained about contamination of stem cell lines from feeder cells, which typically come from mice and are used to grow cell lines on.
Reading the press release and all of the covering news on this discovery one would think the embryonic stem cell debate could finally take its last breath and we could begin our sentences with “remember when” and “back in the day”. But that would make too much sense. Atala himself is reticent to downplay embryonic stem cell research. He sent this letter yesterday to Congresswoman Diane Degette and Congressman Mike Castle in response to their “Dear Colleague” letter issued Monday to members of Congress. You may be aware of this bill coming before congress this Thursday, but Degette is saying all of this late breaking news will have no impact on the vote to further fund more embryonic stem cell research in America. Here is the letter in its entirety:
New Scientific Study Regarding Amniotic Stem Cells Proves All Areas Of Regenerative Medicine Must Be Supported At Federal Level
We have attached a story from the Washington Post, entitled “Scientists See Potential in Amniotic Stem Cells,” which reports on a study showing that amniotic fluid stem cells are multipotent, conducted by Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. This study demonstrates, once again, the need for the federal government to become involved in ALL types of stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
While this research study is very exciting, it is critical to remember that every type of stem cell is different and how we currently understand their unique abilities are different as well: Adult Stem Cells are already differentiated into cell-specific types and are not pluripotent — i.e. they cannot turn into any cell type. Adult stem cells are helpful to treating a handful of diseases, such as blood-related cancers.
Cord Blood Cells can primarily be used to treat blood-borne diseases.
Amniotic Fluid Cells — are multipotent, not pluripotent, which means they can turn into some, but not all cell types. There is no evidence presented in this study to show that amniotic fluid cells have the potential to differentiate into all cell types, including cells needed to treat diabetes. They will be used for a very different purpose in research.
Embryonic Stem Cells are pluripotent and the overwhelming body of scientific research conducted throughout the world has proven that they are the only type of stem cells capable of becoming any cell type in the body.
None of these stem cells are a replacement for another; rather, what we learn from one form of stem cell research may be key to advances in another area. That is why a significant federal commitment should be made to the area of regenerative medicine and all areas of scientific research that may lead to cures for Americans.
You will have the opportunity this week to relax the restrictions on such research in the form of H.R. 3 which will enact strong ethical standards for federally supported embryonic stem cell research and allow such research to move forward on stem cell lines created ethically and with private dollars since 2001.
MEMBER OF CONGRESS
MEMBER OF CONGRESS
So, when we finally get some news that makes good sense, its reactions like those of Castle, DeGette and Atala that make no sense at all.
CBC POLL: What is the #1 reason the scientific community is not satisfied with the growing number of ethical stem cell sources (amniotic, placenta, umbilical cord, adult). Participate in a poll
- Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.