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Biotech Science

'Plentiful' Non-Embryonic Stem Cells Found 489

Posted by Zonk
from the bumper-crop dept.
An anonymous reader writes "CNN reports that scientists at Harvard and Wake Forest have discovered a 'plentiful' non-embryonic source for stem cells, as well brain, liver, and bone cell types as well. The cells, found in amniotic fluid, can be harvested without harm to the donor or the donor's unborn child. While there's no proof that amniotic stem cells are as potent as embryonic stem cells, scientists are hopeful that this will be a huge step forward for the field of stem-cell research."
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'Plentiful' Non-Embryonic Stem Cells Found

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  • amazing (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 08, 2007 @05:29AM (#17505892)
    amazing the hurdles we have to jump to please the followers of a 2000 year old heretic.
  • Re:amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Etcetera (14711) on Monday January 08, 2007 @05:45AM (#17505952) Homepage
    amazing the hurdles science can leap when they put their minds to it
  • Still human ... ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gopal.V (532678) on Monday January 08, 2007 @05:45AM (#17505954) Homepage Journal

    From what I can gather, the basic issue that most religious folk have to do with stem cell research is that we're mucking around with human lives. Unless you can make this process look as simple as a cheek scraping for human cells (allergy research, for instance) the objections will not abate.

    The argument that this cell couldn't have become a baby doesn't quite hold good and has been answered before [slashdot.org] about harvesting eggs from fertility clinics.

    So are these cells are still human, but without a potential human, doomed to die when the aminotic fluid drains. Some facts which might not matter to those who have decided all of this to be Playing God.

  • The spin (Score:1, Insightful)

    by dangitman (862676) on Monday January 08, 2007 @06:14AM (#17506074)

    The cells, found in amniotic fluid, can be harvested without harm to the donor or the donor's unborn child.

    The donor's unborn child? An embryo is not a child. Why do we need an "alternative" to embryonic stem cells anyway? Embryonic stem cells work perfectly well, and are usually considered more effective than non-embryonic cells.

    Funny how you don't see the anti-stem-cell people protesting IVF and other fertility programmes, even though they "kill" embryos too.

  • Re:Ethic issues (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smallfries (601545) on Monday January 08, 2007 @06:32AM (#17506154) Homepage

    The ethic issues remain: can a foetus be taken in consideration separately from his/her amiotic fluid and umbilical cord?
    Well, once one is born and the other is on the delivery room floor I'd say that they can be taken separately...
  • Re:amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 08, 2007 @06:33AM (#17506158)
    As an agnostic and former embryo, I'm very pleased with this news. It's a human rights issue for many - not just Christians.
  • Re:Ethic issues (Score:2, Insightful)

    by timmarhy (659436) on Monday January 08, 2007 @06:42AM (#17506216)
    your right, please don't use any form of the bible as a moral compass, it advocates hate and intolerance.
  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Monday January 08, 2007 @06:43AM (#17506222)
    To the pro-stem cell researchers:

    Would you allow your pregnant daughter to go through this procedure of donating amniotic fluid?

    To the anti-stem cell people:

    Would you allow your daughter, who suffers from a debilitating, ultimately fatal disease, to undergo curative treatment derived from stem cell research?

    Sorry, people, but I'm in the 99.9% of people who DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH KNOWLEDGE ON THIS SUBJECT to be able to make an informed judgment yet on what is right and what is wrong here who is also prepared to ADMIT IT.

    Nothing to see here...

  • by khanyisa (595216) on Monday January 08, 2007 @06:43AM (#17506230)
    The objection is not that embryos are potentially people, is that they are people. This is not true about some cells harvested in such a way that it does not destroy a person (whether embryonic or adult).

    Whether you agree with the classification of embryos as people is what the debate should be about. See http://www.gerv.net/writings/foetal-personhood/ [gerv.net] for some pointers
  • Re:amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lbbros (900904) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:08AM (#17506342) Homepage
    Why the attack on religion? Some ethic considerations may be not only religious in nature, but also philosophical. This involves the beginning of life itself, so I wouldn't classify the matter in such simply (and I dare say "propagandistic") terms. (A religious scientist who used to work in the stem cell research)
  • Re:Ethic issues (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rbanffy (584143) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:11AM (#17506356) Homepage Journal
    While ethical questions should not be based or caused by religion, there is no reason why they must not concur every once and then.

    I can be an atheist and still think abortion is fundamentally wrong (albeit very convenient for the greater good)
  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:11AM (#17506358) Journal
    From what I can gather, the basic issue that most religious folk have to do with stem cell research is that we're mucking around with human lives.

    You're wrong on two counts. 1) The primary concern was that extracting the stem cells would destroy the embryo, not "Playing God". 2) You're also wrong to use the "religious folk" label. People who are non-religious also found that destroying human embryo's for research purposes was a concern. People who were religious argued for the research. Using statements like "religious folk" is indicates you're relying on a stereotype and in this case in particular oversimplifies the entire debate to the point of error.
  • Re:Ethic issues (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ingolfke (515826) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:15AM (#17506372) Journal
    No. Religion has no bearing on ethics. It would be relevant to questions of religious morals, but ethical questions shouldn't have anything to do with religion.

    You are wrong. Ethical systems are individualized first and shared second. One's world view, whether it incorporates a religious viewpoint or not, determines one's ethics. Religion has a huge bearing on individual ethics. The challenge is to communicate and discuss those ethical values across groups of people that may have different world views.
  • Without harm... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mikehunt (225807) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:17AM (#17506386)
    Current statistics give a 1% risk of miscarriage
    after amniocentesis. Also, the amount of cells in
    the volume of fluid that would normally be collected
    is likely to be small.

    Sounds like no news to me.
  • Re:Ethic issues (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HaggiZ (68526) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:27AM (#17506440) Homepage
    Amniotic fluid is already sampled in those that are high risk of havign a child born with down's syndrome, so this is a non-issue.
  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:29AM (#17506456) Journal
    Progress has always been hindered by the masses if they feel it is unethical or sacreligious - regardless of the religion or ethics involved.

    And so you would advocate giving power to a limited few to make decisions for us all?
  • Re:amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gryle (933382) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:43AM (#17506538)
    With respect, I'd data to verify that number please. I'd argue that much of the world's war is caused by human greed, with religion being the pretext and/or justification for the war. That doesn't make religion responsible, it makes it an excuse for war.
  • Re:Ethic issues (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dangitman (862676) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:45AM (#17506544)

    I can be an atheist and still think abortion is fundamentally wrong

    For what reason?

    Also, just being an atheist doesn't make you an ethicist. Atheists can have wacky beliefs too, I'll grant you that.

  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:45AM (#17506548) Journal
    I would expect that the rational individuals who are arguing against stem cell research would also argue against abortion based on the value of human life. National abortion laws are established through court cases based on the limitations on the reach of government, not because everyone thinks it's acceptable and voted for it.
  • Re:amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by saboola (655522) on Monday January 08, 2007 @08:27AM (#17506792)
    Faith is a scapegoat. Man has a natural propensity to want to destroy each other, if it was not for faith then it would be for something else.
  • Re:amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aussie_a (778472) on Monday January 08, 2007 @08:39AM (#17506868) Journal
    And will get tossed in the bin. Oh yes, so much better to toss them away unused.
  • Re:Liar (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ChetOS.net (936869) on Monday January 08, 2007 @08:55AM (#17506956) Homepage
    1) An embryo is a collection of cells and has life (as much life as a bacterium, which I doubt you would deny).
    2) At conception, the genetic structure is uniquely human.

    So I think that an embryo would count as human life.

    Now, as to whether it is a person is a totally different issue.
  • You Can Be Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luscious868 (679143) on Monday January 08, 2007 @09:40AM (#17507284)
    Even if these new stem cells aren't as useful as embryonic stem cells you can be sure that right wing zealots will argue that they are. I just don't get the case against embryonic stem cell research provided that research is carried out on embryos that have been donated with informed consent and would otherwise be destroyed. I could sort of understand the argument if these embryos were going to be implanted and had a real chance to become a baby, but we're talking about embryos that are going to be destroyed. IMHO destroying embryos that could be used in research to try and cure a number of truly horrible diseases is the immoral course of action.
  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Monday January 08, 2007 @10:09AM (#17507624) Journal
    I'm sorry, but the idea that embryonic stem cells could have become a baby is precisely the objection that most of the people who object to ESC research have.

    I'm afraid I have to disagree here. The problem is not with stem cell research, or even the fact that it is possible to manipulate a stem cell into becoming a human being, but how you got the cell in the first place.

    I fully support stem cell research. I think it is a sin not to. The only problem people like me have with embryonic stem cell research is not the research at all, but the production of the stem cells to begin with. In order to harvest embryonic stem cells (as my feeble mind understands it), an embryo must be coaxed to divide and start to grow. At a certain point, it has to be destroyed to harvest the stem cells. It's that destruction of a growing embryo that is the problem. People like me equate that to an abortion, but it's no longer about women's choice, but experimentation and profit.

    Now we can get into a ton of philosophical debates as to when life begins and when an embryo becomes human and such, but this debate goes into so many different directions. If we agree not to harvest embryos for stem cells because they are human, then they must be human when considering an abortion. If an embryo is not human, then why the rub about abortion? This is another reason why the debate gets so heated. There is more at stake than just stem cells.

    Most people want embryonic stem cells for one or a combination of three reasons:
    1) Bush said not to and it pisses off fundies (these tend to go together)
    2) It legally reaffirms that embryos are not human, and thus abortion remains legal
    3) They want to stop the suffering humans with diseases that stem cell research promises to cure, and they don't know that stem cells can come from other sources.

    This is why other sources must be found. It's not because anyone is right or wrong, but because neither side will ever give up. Will it get to the point where fundies are blowing up research labs and feminists are performing stem cell harvesting with coat hangers? Doubtful, but why have the debate at all when there are other means of harvesting stem cells than to kill a growing embryo? We really can have our cake and eat it too!

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday January 08, 2007 @10:14AM (#17507660) Journal
    Scientifically, life starts at conception. The embryo is clearly and demonstrably alive. This is not the issue, however, since we have no problem killing things; even vegans kill plants, and while fruitarians don't kill whole plants, the cells in the fruit they eat are alive.

    The ethical concerns over stem-cell research are over whether the embryo is sentient, and has a soul. The first is scientific, while the second is religious in nature. We can theorise scientifically that it isn't sentient, since it has not yet developed a brain, and in the absence of evidence showing you can think without a brain we accept this as being as close to true as science get.

    Whether it has a soul, however, is a different matter. Religious people can argue that it has a soul from the instant of conception. The idea, however, that something can be non-sentient but still have a soul has a number of ramifications that they don't seem to have fully grasped.

  • by THE anonymus coward (92468) on Monday January 08, 2007 @10:29AM (#17507854) Homepage
    Well, I am both a religious person, and a philosopher. Both you, and the "religious nutjob" as you put it, have made some philosophical errors.

    I don't know if you have heard of Aristotle's Form/Matter distinction, but basically, it is this. Matter is the stuff of a thing, and Form is (more or less) how it is arranged. To put it another way, Matter is the material stuff that makes something what it is, and Form is the immaterial stuff that makes it how it is.

    So, why is this important to note? Well, for a human being, the Matter is our body, and the form is our soul. So, as long as we have something that is human material (read, fertilized egg), we have the human form, aka, a soul. Don't believe me? The difference between a living thing and a dead thing is the presence of an animating principle (soul). Still don't believe me, I challenge you to come up with a material way of describing the difference between a living organism and a dead organism.

    Now, your friend clearly isn't a philosopher, so I will correct her mistake as well. An animal has an animal body, and as a result, an animal soul. When the cow dies, the cow's soul goes with it. The difference is that a human being has an immaterial and thus immortal soul, and as a result, should be treated differently.

    Before you go and deny that humans have an immortal soul, I point to the fact that it is the operation of an immortal soul to come to some notion of God (an immortal being). Every person I know has some notion of God. The Atheist has to have one so that he can deny it, and the agnostic has to come to a notion of God in order to be not sure about it. The cow can't say "I wonder about what there was before I existed" (an action that is uniquely human) but the cow can seek good grass to convert into methane and manure.
  • Re:Liar (Score:4, Insightful)

    by theStorminMormon (883615) <theStorminMormonNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday January 08, 2007 @11:24AM (#17508472) Homepage Journal
    You can usually tell when someone has been thoroughly spanked in an argument when they resort to the CAPS LACK OF ANGRY ANGRY DOOM(tm). The fact of the matter is that precise definitions are not always necessary. Here's a simple analogy. If I'm standing Richmond, VA and you're standing in Sacramento, CA I can say with complete confidence that I know we're in different cities, even if I don't actually have any idea what the precise city limits of either city are.

    When you ask for a definition you're asking someone to put exact borders around an idea and say "everything on this side is x, everything on the other side is not x". If you're talking about a case right on the edge, this degree of precision may be a necessary. For example: is a virus alive? Tough question. But no one seriously asks "is bacteria alive" unless they are being philosophical or unnecessarily obtuse.

    As far as your rejection of the analogy, I have to wonder if you know what an analogy is. When something can be agreed by analog, it means that two things are similar, but not the same. So, setting aside your questionable characterization of an embryo as "a group of embryonic cells", your point that an embryo is not a bacteria is rather odd. Of course it's not. If it was the same, it wouldn't be an analog, would it?

    It's pretty clear that what is going on is that you are playing the part of a good reactionary. You have, for whatever reasons, a strong emotional attachment to the abortion issue. You see the argument that an embryo is a living human being to threaten your position and so you react. Your logic in the reaction has been pretty poor (as indicated by your unapologetic resort to ad hominem and the CAPS LOCK OF ANGRY ANGRY DOOM(tm)).

    1. An embryo is alive. Your response: define life. As I've already shown, this is an unnecessary burden. Your other response: an embryo is not a bacterium. True, but hardly relevant.

    2. An embryo is a human being. No response so far. And there can hardly be one. I'm waiting (heart racing, I assure you) for the inevitable my liver/sperm/hair is human response. And this is true, but your hair is not a complete human entity, it's a part of one. Same for liver, blood cells, etc.

    In any case, the solution to your apparent philosophical crisis is simply to realize that there is, or can be, a distinction between a human being and a person. That an embryo is technically a human being at the point of conception is pretty much beyond question. It's a living and unique instance of the species homo sapiens. The question is whether human rights should be expanded to all human beings (which is my position) or just to "persons" (yet to be defined). If you read the other Slashdot comments, you can see that there are plenty of people who are happy to have more constrictive definitions of "person" that exclude (for example) the mentally handicapped.

    -stormin
  • Re:amazing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by StalinsNotDead (764374) <umbaga&gmail,com> on Monday January 08, 2007 @11:17PM (#17518336) Journal
    they're about as alive as a mini-pizza

    It's not delivery. It's Digiorno's

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