Tempering Expectations for 'Ultimate Stem Cell'

Plus: Martin and Gracia Burnham have been held for nine months and counting. And it's worth freeing them, despite what some are saying.

University of Minnesota stem-cell scientist: Too early to tell anything
Catherine Verfaillie says her discovery of "the ultimate stem cell" is important, but there's still a lot of work to be done. "Even though we're excited about the fact that there seem to be cells in adult tissue that seem to have greater potential than we thought, it's too soon to say they have the same potential and capabilities as embryo cells," the University of Minnesota biologist tells The Washington Post. As Christian bioethics organizations pointed out yesterday, the discovery probably makes controversial experimentation on embryonic stem cells unnecessary—but Verfaillie says that such experiments should continue. The discovery of the adult stem cell "does not mean we should eliminate a whole line of research," she says.

Work on "the most important cell ever discovered" is just beginning, but already it is the focus of debate on Capitol Hill. A Senate subcommittee was already scheduled to discuss a ban on human embryo clones yesterday. Verfaillie's finding (published in New Scientist on the basis of a patent the biologist filed, not on any peer-reviewed academic journal article) added a new dimension to that meeting. "Science continues to prove that destructive embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary," said Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

One important media note: The New York Times article on the stem cells says, "Embryonic cells, although more versatile, are obtained by destroying the blastocyst, or early stage embryo, and opponents of abortion are strongly against work with them." But The Washington Post correctly points out that it's not just prolife forces who oppose embryonic stem cell research:

The committee also heard strong words in opposition ...
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March
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