After more than a decade of stalled stem cell research, the US regulators have now approved thirteen new lines of embryonic stem cells. The restrictions put in place by George W. Bush in capitulation to religious prejudice, have now been lifted and the production of the thirteen new lines is invaluable in opening up research. The new lines were developed by the Chidren's Hospital, Boston, and Rockerfeller University in New York. There are another ninety-six stem cell lines in the process of approval.
The importance of the stem cell lines is that they can be maintained indefinitely, to produce an unlimited source of stem cells for research. In turn, the stem cells can be made to develop into any type of tissue, providing reproducible lines of cell types for controlled scientific studies.
By being able to control the variation, relying on identical cell types, controlled trials can be carried out in medical research ranging from transplantation and regeneration, therapeutic delivery systems for delivering drugs to specific tissues and experiments to understand chromosomal abnormalities, to replacements for animal testing experiments, and many more.
The religious right in the US campaigned for the restriction of stem cell research on the grounds that the source of stem cells were days-old embryos, which they claimed were detroyed in the process. Of course, the days-old embryo was not a foetus, nor any form of sustainable human life. They claim a moral case based on the belief that an undifferentiated collection of human cells possesses an immaterial entity called a soul and that their belief that this is the case, should override the case for research.
All those sufferers from Alzheimers, those needing tissue transplants, those suffering genetic illnesses, blindness, diabetes, and a host of others, apparently have less of a case than the unidentifiable, unevidenced, undetectable, insubstantial, immaterial existence of something they call a soul. What a strange irrational morality!
But even though the decision to release the cell lines is very welcome, we should still recognise the religious straight-jacket under which the authorities are working. It remains illegal in the US to use government money to create or destroy an embryo. For this reason, the stem cell lines were created with private money from cells left over by fertility clinics, embryos that would otherwise have been thrown away.