Opponents of unethical stem cell research have always believed that scientists would be able to develop a robust regenerative medical sector without needing to create and/or destroy nascent human lives. And indeed, we have seen the invention of induced pluripotent stem cells — made from normal human tissues — that are already being used in ways that advocates once said would require human cloning to accomplish. We see thousands of human trials using adult stem cells throughout the world. Embryonic, not so much.
And now, scientists are creating human hearts using pig hearts and adult stem cells. From the Houston Chronicle story:
On the ninth floor of the Texas Heart Institute’s Denton Cooley building, Doris Taylor and her team are building human hearts, with help from pigs and stem cells. “We think a pig heart is a perfect scaffold for a human heart, based on its structure and size,” says Taylor, a passionate scientist with a Ph.D. in pharmacology. One recent morning, a pig heart hung suspended in a clear homemade tank in the lab built for Taylor and her team. Filled with detergent, the heart had expanded to the size of a large man’s fist, excess liquid dripping slowly out its sides.
Once the heart is thoroughly cleaned, hard-working human stem cells — immature cells found in our organs and tissues that help repair damage on a daily basis — will bring it to life. “We can take stems cells from bone marrow, blood or fat and place them onto a heart, liver or lung scaffold,” Taylor explains. “My motto for a long time has been ‘Give nature the tools and get out of the way’.”
Remember, this is still in the experimental stage, so no guarantees. But the research seems to be moving forward toward human testing:
Taylor predicts that in the next two years, she and her team will approach the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and ask to do a first-in-human study with the bio-artificial hearts. “Will it be a whole heart? Probably not,” Taylor says. “But it could be a cardiac patch or a valve. We might start with a piece to show the safety and efficacy of the technology.”
Of course, animal rights activists would oppose the research because of the pigs. At the very least this experiment demonstrates (yet again) the urgent scientific need for using animals in research.
Most of us will celebrate this research and hope it works. The !!! successes of ethical stem cell research offers society a common way forward — ethically and scientifically. Imagine your own tissue one day recreating your own organs, and all without degrading nascent human lives into mere natural resources. Good ethics and good science: Nothing beats it.