Amniotic stem cells good, but not embryonic replacement

As reported in the Washington Post and other sources, researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University and Children’s Hospital (Boston) have shown that stem cells from amniotic fluid can be differentiated into brain cells, bone cells, muscle, fat, blood vessels and liver cells, demonstrating the kind of pluripotentiality that has previously marked one of the real distinctions between embryonic and adult stem cells. Moreover, the amniotic stem cells demonstrated a kind of stability (resisting formation of tumors) that is better than embryonic stem cells.

Quick to pounce on and deflate the balloon of embryonic stem cells as the only solution, some opponents of embryonic stem cell research (e.g., Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who notes,”This is wonderful news,” for offering the benefits of stem cells without destroying embryos). They have a valid point, but one that is limited by the fact that no stem cell type is likely to be perfect for all applications and that in reality a continuum of stem cell types exists, with a comparable spectrum of advantages. George Daley of Harvard, notes that amniotic stem cells “are not a replacement for embryonic stem cells.”
As Charles Darwin said, “a scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, — a mere heart of stone.” The science of determining the clinical application of different stem cell types needs to be carried out in a way that is less fraught with hope and expectation of specific outcomes for or against the value of embryonic stem cells for specific applications. The field remains characterized more by wishes and affections than science.

Tags: medtech, embryonic, stem-cells

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