Science in Society Archive

Human Embryo Research Not Needed

In January, Britain became the only country in Europe to allow the creation of human embryos for research, in flagrant disregard of public order and morality as well as science. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports on the remarkable flexibility of living cells, which she rates as the greatest discovery in biology in recent years.

Clear away the remains of the human genome fanfare and appreciate the real wonders of the organism. Just when biologists have made up their mind that life is downhill from the moment of birth, they are discovering how wrong they have been. Just when they were so sure that the different kinds of cells in our body are fixed for the rest of our lives and can only replace themselves and eventually die, they are in for the surprise of their lives. Stem cells, cells that retain the ability to become many different kinds of cells in the body, is the greatest discovery in biology. These are present, not only in the beginning of development, but throughout adult life.

When the House of Lords voted in January 2001 to allow the creation of human embryos so that embryonic stem cells could be harvested for cell and tissue replacement, they were committing a grave moral and scientific error. Findings have been tumbling out of laboratories on the remarkable flexibility of stem cells that can easily be isolated from adults, such as cells in the bone marrow. These can regenerate not only all the cell types in the blood, but also cells of the brain, liver muscle, spleen; practically of all organ systems in the body.

Now, scientists have reported in this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting [1] that umbilical cord cells, which are found in the umbilical cord of every new born, also have the ability to repair brain injury when injected into rats. Such brain injuries are often found in stroke victims.

Umbilical cord cells are already routinely stored at birth to help children in treating certain cancers. There are 4 million births in the US annually, and 700 000 stroke victims.

For more on stem cells, see "The Unecessary Evil of 'Therapeutic Human Cloning", this issue.

  1. "Stem cells may repair brain injuries" Tim Radford, The Guardian Feb. 20, 2001

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