Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stem Shell Game

I can't decide whether this reporting is purposefully negligent or simply sloppy. is carrying a story about a Japanese team that used "stem cells" to partially treat a spinal cord injury in a monkey.
TOKYO - Japanese researchers said Wednesday they had used stem cells [which kind? some are moral to use, others not] to restore partial mobility in a small monkey that had been paralysed from the neck down by a spinal injury.

"It is the world's first case in which a small-size primate recovered from a spinal injury using stem cells," professor Hideyuki Okano of Tokyo's Keio University told AFP. [Another reference to generic "stem cells". Designed to confuse?]

Okano's research team, which earlier helped a mouse recover its mobility in a similar treatment, injected so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into a paralysed marmoset, he said. [So-called? That's what they're called: iPS. Differences matter.]

The team planted four types of genes into human skin cells to create the iPS cells, according to Kyodo News. [Injecting genes into skin cells is licit (iPS), putting baby in the blender (embryonic stem cells (ESC)) is not.]

The injection was given on the ninth day after the injury, considered the most effective timing, and the monkey started to move its limbs again within two to three weeks, Okano said.

"After six weeks, the animal had recovered to the level where it was jumping around," he told AFP. "It was very close to the normal level." [Apparently not a cure-all.]

"Its gripping strength on the forefeet also recovered to up to 80 percent."

Okano called the research project a major stride to pave the way for a similar medical technique to be used on humans. [Always they want to experiment on humans.]

Scientists say the use of human embryonic stem cells as a treatment for cancer and other diseases holds great promise, but the process has drawn fire from religious conservatives and others who oppose it. [Irrelevant reference to ESC, when Okano's research used iPS. Uncalled-for attack on "religious conservatives and others" who are opposing the "great promise" of the ends-justifies-the-means.]

Embryonic stem cell research is controversial because human embryos are destroyed in order to obtain the cells capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body. [Right. ESC are capable of developing into the whole tissue of the body, because they come from babies!]

Oy! For a more complete treatment about the different kinds of stem cells and their permitted moral use in medicine see Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at the NCBC (National Catholic Bioethics Center), is the author of a column called Making Sense out of Bioethics that appears in various diocesan newspapers across the country.

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