To the editor:
I am prompted to write in response to the article in the July Catholic Courier monthly edition titled “Stem-cell veto applauded.” In this article and previous articles in the Catholic Courier there were several statements regarding stem cell biology that I as a biologist felt could be misleading. Stem cells and embryonic stem cell research are sensitive and complex topics and the public discussion is not advanced by inaccurate information.¬†
It is true that adult stem cells have been successfully isolated from “bone marrow, placenta, and umbilical cord blood and have led to successful treatment for a number of diseases.” Cells derived from these three sources for stem cells can be used to treat several diseases of blood forming tissues, including cancers of blood cells, such as leukemia, and inherited diseases of the blood such as sickle cell anemia. The truly astounding and rapid progress in development of these treatments is in part due to the fact that blood is a fluid tissue and the various cell types, including adult stem cells, can be isolated without damage from bone marrow, placenta, and umbilical cord.
The article wrongfully implies that cells from these three sources can and have given rise to “200-plus types of differentiated cells found in the body.” At this time there are no reliable methods for isolating stem cells from solid tissues and as someone actively engaged in biomedical research I am unaware of “a recent breakthrough” in reprogramming ordinary adult cells.¬†Insufficient detail is provided for the reader to know what breakthrough is under discussion.¬† ¬†
The Church has a legitimate interest in the issue of embryonic stem cell derived therapies and research. Over-stating or misinterpretation of research results does not advance the position of the church. On the other side of the issue, advocates for embryonic stem cell research have frequently over promised and under delivered. It’s time to elevate and civilize this discussion rather than inflate the “facts.” ¬†
We need to focus on the central theological, moral, and scientific question; the harvesting of stem cells from embryos produced by in-vitro fertilization clinics, embryos which are routinely discarded.¬†There is an opportunity to use these cells to treat disease; there is also an obligation to cherish life.¬†Please can we engage in civil discussion without distortion? ¬†
West Spruce Street
EDITOR’S NOTE: The statement about an unspecified “recent breakthrough” was part of a quotation from Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The author also may have misread the article’s comment about the ability of adult stem cells to produce differentiated cell types. It actually said the cells can turn into to “many of the 200-plus types of differentiated cells found in the body” (emphasis added). We regret that this statement was not attributed to its source by the Catholic News Service reporter.