Stem Cell Fight Comes to the Heartland

Our state representatives arrive back in Jeff City this week and start right in on debating embryonic stem cells:

When Missouri’s elected representatives arrive to work for the 2005 legislative session this week, they will have their hands full of material about the ethics and implications of a proposed statewide ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

The material includes a letter and background information from Rep. Jim Lembke (R), one of the bill’s originators, describing what he says are the advantages of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells and the ethical problems with both reproductive and therapeutic cloning.

However, leaders from Missouri research institutions have also sent their own letter to legislators, urging them to ban reproductive cloning but not SCNT, a step they argue would undermine the state’s entire life science industry. The letter, sent last month, is signed by William H. Danforth, chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis; Elson Floyd, president of the University of Missouri System; William Neaves, president of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City; and Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

Proponents paint a scary scenario of a Missouri trapped in the Dark Ages if a ban is passed as scientists flee to more enlightened states. What they don’t say is that SCNT is the same process required to create human clones.

It also ignores the issues raised by the research of Dr. Jaenisch of MIT, and discussed in his article in the current New England Journal of Medicine. First, “in cloning–that is, when the nucleus of a somatic cell is inserted into a denucleated egg cell–the reprogramming of the genes does not proceed properly, so that not all of the genes that are necessary to the early phase of embryonic development, are activated. Even when cloned animals survive at all, probably every clone would have subtle genetic abnormalities that would frequently become noticeable only later in life.” Second, “[s]o far there has been no solution to the problem of developing in the laboratory an unmistakable identifier for stem cells that can distinguish them unequivocally from cancer cells.”

So again I ask: Why are we being asked to throw tax money into a process that’s likely to produce only genetically flawed cancer cells? And again, the answer comes to me as a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach: Follow the money.

The love of which is the root of all evil.

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