Christian medical professionals are hailing the latest breakthrough in stem cell research, claiming that it further proves that the destruction of embryos is unnecessary to find cures for disease.
"This breakthrough validates many other significant proofs of the therapeutic promise of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) and adult stem cells," declared Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the 16,000-member Christian Medical Association (CMA), on Monday.
"Compared to the speculative, controversial and dangerous embryonic stem cell research that the [Obama] administration insists on funding illegally, iPS cell and adult stem cell research is a cheaper, faster, safer, more efficient and quicker path to the cures we need," he added.
On Thursday, a team of researchers led by Derrick J. Rossi of the Children's Hospital Boston revealed its development of a new technique that can quickly and more efficiently create safe alternatives to human embryonic stem cells.
The new method, which is featured in the October issue of Cell Stem Cell, uses synthetic RNA to drive the expression of stem cell-inducing proteins without irreversibly altering the cells' genetic material.
The resulting stem cells then are able to recapitulate the functional and molecular properties of human embryonic stem cells, and therefore can be transformed into specialized cells to treat disease.
Furthermore, unlike current methods that use viruses to deliver the genes that "reprogram" a cell into a stem cell, the new method poses little (if any) risk for cancer as RNA doesn't become part of the cell's genome. The resulting stem cells are also generated at much higher efficiencies than standard virus-based techniques and in half the time.
If that's not reason enough to celebrate, Rossi - whose team spent more than a year developing the synthetic, chemically-modified RNA - said the new technology also has potential reaching far beyond the stem-cell field.
"In terms of therapeutics, any genetic disease that involves a mutation of a gene that doesn't make a certain protein, we can now approach that with this technology to reintroduce that protein into those cells and reestablish proper function to those cells," he reported. "So we think that this is going to be really important for many therapeutic avenues in addition to basic questions of biology."
After news spread of the latest development, CMA's Stevens questioned how anyone could continue insisting that the government, "in a time of financial crisis, should continue to shovel hundreds of millions of tax dollars down the black hole of speculative embryo-destroying research."
"These new iPS cells are safer; there is no evidence of a risk of causing cancer by using viruses to insert genes into cells. The new cells are produced more efficiently, taking just 17 days to create. The new iPS cells are cheaper to develop, can easily tissue match the patient that the therapy are given too and are morally acceptable to all," Stevens noted. "The fact that these iPS cells strategy can then turn those cells into ones that could be used for transplants is a huge step forward as well."
Notably, despite the highly touted potential of embryonic stem cells, research on embryo-derived cells has yet to treat a single disease. Adult stem cell research, meanwhile, has produced treatments for heart muscle rehabilitation, muscle growth, diabetes and Parkinson's disease, among others. Altogether, more than 80 diseases are already being treated with non-controversial adult stem cells and 1,970 clinical trials with adult stem cells are underway. With embryonic stem cells, there is only one human clinical trial.
"With patients desperately waiting for cures and ethical alternatives showing such great promise, it is increasingly ludicrous to spend and speculate our tax dollars instead on unethical, illegal and cancer-producing embryonic stem cell research," Stevens remarked.
CMA, which claims a membership of around 16,000 physicians, medical students and allied health professionals, was an original party to a lawsuit that on Aug. 23 won a temporary halting of all federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.
A federal appeals court in Washington has since made permanent a stay requested by the Obama administration on the district court judge's order to halt federal funding of the controversial research.
The U.S. government's funding of embryonic stem cell research, therefore, is allowed to continue as the case against it makes way through the court system.
Supporters of the controversial research emphasize that embryonic stem cells can differentiate into almost any tissue and therefore have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases.