Stem cells hot again

The US House of Representatives passed a bill January 24th very much like last year's bill to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cells derived from embryos that might otherwise be discarded.

The usual rhetoric reined on the Hill. The only development identified as new was the recognition that stem cells have now been derived from amniotic fluid. These cells presumably come from the developing embryo and would thus be as "potent" as any embryonic stem cell.

Again, we're into rhetoric and into the subject I am accused of always focusing on--words. In this case, the questions are two:

1. How can someone tell whether the cells removed from the amnionic fluid belong to the embryo/fetus and not the mother (adult)? Inaccurate identifications are not uncommon in pre-natal diagnosis.

2. Are the cells more embryonic earlier in development--as opposed to later? Where is the boundary between embryo and fetus? After all, fetal stem cells derived from the umbilical cord are actually adult cells, not embryonic (

What really are the differences between embryonic and adult stem cells?

All the old arguments are being brought out. Which makes me wonder: hasn't anything new happened in embryonic/adult stem cell research in the year and a half since the previous stem cell funding bill was introduced and passed in the House? Besides the Hwang problems in South Korea, has anything new happened since President Bush first imposed the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cells derived after whatever date it was years ago?


Let me check into that again. All I see is a new adult-stem-cell cure number--73 vs. the older 65. If adult stem cells are so much better than embryonic stem cells, why so few new cures (if, in fact, the cures are anything more than cancer recovery treatments not on the earlier list)? If embryonic stem cells are so much better than adult stem cells, why no progress in the the past five or so years? I can't believe federal funding has all that much to do with it. After all, federal funding has continued on the embryonic stem cell lines "approved" by Bush.

I'm eager to learn what questions and opinions others have. Won't you add a comment to this entry?

Marie Godfrey, PhD


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