Aug 13th, 2010 by americamagazine
W. Malcolm Byrnes reports on scientific research into induced pluripotent stem cells, a promising prolife alternative to embryonic stem cell research. Because IPS cell research does not result in the destruction of embryos--and because IPS cells are more easily obtained than embryonic stem cells--their discovery in 2006 was hailed by scientists and prolife leaders alike. Four years later, it appears that additional testing is still needed to demonstrate that IPS cells are functionally equivalent to embryonic stem cells. This process could pose ethical problems for church leaders, explains Byrnes, who argues that a recent encyclical could point a way forward.
Maybe we don’t have to convince those who support embryonic stem cell research that it’s wrong. We can simply demonstrate that some people find such research morally questionable. And then if IPS cell research is presented alongside embryonic stem cell research, we can say that we have two options here that produce similar results, and one of them is not morally problematic. I would hope at least some proponents of embryonic stem cell research could then get on board with IPS cell research.
It is very difficult to assume that induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells will be a substitute for embryonic stem cells (ESCs) although they exhibit some but not all properties of stem cells when induced with a cocktail of specific factors (mainly with gene products of Myc, Oct4, Nanog and Sox2).
For example, there is great concern that iPS cells derived from different tissues tend to maintain their parental lineages i.e. iPS cells derided from the skin tend to produce more skin cells even if induced to commit to neuronal cells. One possible explanation is that may be inducing somatic/adult cells to ESCs using a set of transcription factors leaves the epigenetic memory (meaning non-genetic but heritable features) unerased and therefore biases iPS cells to behave more like their adult parental cells.