September 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Why the extreme religious right are turning against iPS cells

There was a time, not so long ago, when the religious right hailed the discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

Headlines blared from the extreme right on the Internet such as, “Embryonic stem cells obsolete”.

Even

Dr. Oz told Oprah and Michael J. Fox, religious right
Dr. Oz told Oprah and Michael J. Fox ES cells weren’t necessary, delighting the religious right.

the same kind of thing, saying, “The stem cell debate is dead”.

You see opponents of embryonic stem cells (ES cells) figured that the appearance of iPS cells, made from skin rather than blastocysts leftover from IVF, on the scene could be used as a propaganda weapon against ES cell research and its funding.

But they lost the Sherley v. Sebelius case so now federal funding of ES cell research is pretty much as close to permanently legal in the US as possible, which is to say not very permanent, but at least relatively stable.

Interestingly, the extreme religious right now have lost their taste for iPS cells.

We are seeing an increasing number of negative stories about iPS cells sourced to religious extremists in the last few years. One of the most nonsensical was a recent piece (please if possible do not give in to temptation and click that link to give that nonsense web traffic) that claimed that iPS cells were actually embryos and that Nobel Laureate John Gurdon said as much. Believe me that article is one of the worst I have ever read on stem cells.

A recent collaborative book by NeoStem CEO Robin Smith and the Vatican also didn’t exactly embrace iPS cells, which were also somewhat diss’d at the recent Vatican stem cell meeting.

What was once a replacement for ES cells has now become a bad thing itself according to these folks.

Why?

There is a jumble of possible reasons.

One is that iPS cells are viewed by the right wing as unnatural and somehow just not right. Maybe even evil. It is nonsense of course, but this view is growing.

A second reason seems to be a growing propaganda campaign to equate iPS cells with embryos, a notion mentioned in that earlier article mentioned above. These folks are mistakenly equating potentiality with equality. A logical extension of their nonsense is that ANY cell is an embryo since we can make iPS cells from pretty much any cell. Thus, in their warped way of thinking, would any cell be an embryo?

Cellular rights, personhood, and other such gobbledygook take rights away from real, living, breathing people. I believe that laws based on such notions are unconstitutional.

Another factor is that iPS cells hypothetically might be used to clone people in the future, a possibility I discuss in my forthcoming book due out in August.

We still do not know whether this will actually work and honestly I am concerned about it, but the religious right are clearly very spooked at the idea.

I’m no fan of reproductive cloning and unlike many of my colleagues I do believe that it is going to become a reality in the coming decade. The first cloning of humans could even be based on iPS cell technology, but this is no reason to turn against iPS cells in a general sense.

More broadly, misguided people can turn even a wonderful thing into something bad if they try hard enough.

It will be interesting even if disturbing to see how far the right wing will go in this new trend of theirs against iPS cells. In the end their narrow minded viewpoint, if translated into laws and regulations based on misinformation, may lead to fewer and fewer people being helped by stem cells in the future. I think that is what is unethical.

Adult stem cells are wonderful, but they are not a panacea and we need embryonic stem cells and iPS cells too to help the most people.

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