Autor: ---- Fuente: C-FAM (Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute)

The quest to find a moral means of obtaining embryonic–like stem cells took a giant leap forward this week when a team of scientists announced that they had successfully generated pluripotent stem cells from mice using a process know as altered nuclear transfer (ANT). Though some Catholic ethicists caution that in its present form the procedure may be immoral, even those ethicists are heartened by the news and say it shows that a morally acceptable version of ANT could be developed.

ANT was originally proposed by William Hurlbut, a medical doctor, a consulting professor in human biology at Stanford University and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. He believed ANT might provide a way around the moral objections of embryo destructive research. According to his proposal, the nucleus of a human egg is removed and replaced with cells from another person, such as in cloning. But unlike cloning, in Hurlbut's proposal the gene responsible for creating the placenta is turned off. Hurlbut contends that this prevents an embryo from being created. But like traditional cloning, the egg still generates inner cell mass, or the "blank" cells, that some scientist believe have the greatest research potential. ANT was the subject of much controversy in conservative circles because some thought it would result in the creation and destruction of deformed embryos.

The research that moved ANT from mere theory to the world of the possible was carried out by scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research which is associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The purpose of our study was to provide a scientific basis for the ethical debate," said Rudolf Jaenisch, lead author on the paper that was published in the online edition of the journal Nature. "Our work is the first proof-of-principle study to show that altered nuclear transfer not only works but is extremely efficient." Jaenisch is widely considered the world's leading researcher on embryonic stem cells. Because he favors embryo destructive research, his work on behalf of an ethical alternative is considered especially significant.

Father Thomas Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, says the new research is good news. "I think that the pro-life community should welcome this research. I think it does bring us closer to a possible solution toward getting these kinds of cells in ways that don't destroy embryos," he said. Father Berg was among a gathering of more than 30 scientists, ethicists and philosophers that took place in July. They produced a proposal for a form of ANT called oocyte assisted reprogramming (OAR) which they believe addresses ethical concerns surrounding ANT. Father Berg said that the next step should be testing the OAR proposal on primates.

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said he was pleased with the results of Whitehead study because he believes it may pave the way to successfully implementing OAR. But Father Pacholczyk was wary of ANT in its current form. "The altered nuclear transfer itself as done [in this study] in my opinion does not resolve the moral question. The evidence is fairly convincing in my opinion that what's generated is an embryo with certain defects," he said. Father Berg disagrees. "What I am hearing is there seems to be a considerable amount of information that might suggest to us that this product was not a mouse embryo," he said. "The point is that we are not at a place yet where we can say one way or the other."
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