A much-celebrated breakthrough that turns adult skin cells to embryonic-like stem cells is not the solution to the problem of destroying embryos for pluripotent stem cells. In November, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and Dr. James Thomson published separate studies that were hailed as moral alternatives to embryonic stem cell research, both in the media and by some pro-lifers. Both studies involved introducing genes into adult stem cells through a lentivirus, which reprogrammed them to become “embryonic” or induced pluripotent stem cells, without destroying human embryos.

But as the pro-life watchdog Children of God for Life noted in a January report, both researchers used several versions of the 293 aborted fetal cell lines to modify the DNA of the host adult skin cells, in order to accomplish the reprogramming. “Unless you read the papers published by Dr. Yamanaka in Cell and Dr. Thomson in Science, you would have no idea where the DNA came from that was used to transform the adult cells,” stated Debi Vinnedge, executive director of Children of God for Life. “And even then, you would have to know what you were looking for to understand it,” she added.

While Dr Yamanaka reports using PLAT-E, PLAT-A and 293FT cells in his paper, the proper name for these cell lines is HEK (human embryonic kidney) 293, obtained from an electively aborted baby.

In the second study, Thomson used aborted fetal cell line 293FT to produce DNA used to modify adult cells. Furthermore, he obtained the DNA sequences he used from human ES cells. And, before using foreskin fibroblasts, Thomson tested the reprogramming on IMR-90, an aborted fetal cell line, taken from the lung tissue of a 16-week-gestated female baby.

“Pro-lifers may be deceived by the excitement about these publications,” Vinnedge cautioned, but “using aborted fetal and embryonic stem cells from deliberately destroyed human beings is certainly not any kind of moral victory.”

Vinnedge noted that the research is fraught with other moral and clinical problems, such as fatal tumours, which are also a well-documented attribute of embryonic stem cells; the tumours predictably occurred with the adult reprogrammed IPS cells. And while Yamanaka and Thomson allege the new cells generated would be “patient specific” with no immune rejection problems, this claim is premature, because there is foreign DNA present from the lentivirus used to modify the cells.

This seems odd, however, because it is not necessary to use aborted fetal cells to produce the lentivirus at all, noted Dr. Theresa Deisher, R&D director of Ave Maria Biotechnology Company, a research firm dedicated to pro-life alternatives for unethical human therapeutics. “There are other ethical ways to produce the DNA needed for transformation, efficiently and morally,” said Deisher. “If these means were employed to produce the needed DNA, there would be no moral issues with the use of reprogrammed adult cells for research.”

With files from LifeSiteNews.com.