Stem-cell advances may quell ethics debate

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Robert Waddell says he's glad the stem cells that healed him came from "a guy who was 50 years old" and not a human embryo.

As a Catholic, Waddell opposes the destruction of embryos and didn't want to rely on embryonic stem cells to cure his kidney disease. But he avoided this moral dilemma by getting bone marrow stem cells from a friend who donated a kidney as part of a University of Louisville study.

"It has nothing to do with embryonic stem cells," said Waddell, a 47-year-old father of four. "That made it a lot easier."

Recent strides in stem-cell research show adult stem cells to be ever-more-promising, many scientists say, quelling the controversy steeped in faith and science that has long surrounded embryonic stem cells.

In fact, University of Louisville researcher Scott Whittemore said the debate is almost moot.

"Realistically, (many scientists don't use) the types of stem cells that are so problematic anymore," he said, adding that adult stem cells can now be reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. "The field has moved so fast."

In addition to these genetically reprogrammed adult cells - known as induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells - scientists are on the cusp of being able to turn one type of cell into another in the body without using stem cells at all. They shared some of the latest research last week at the annual International Society for Stem Cell Research in Vancouver.

"IPS cells overcame the main ethical issues," namely the use of embryos some Americans consider sacred human life, said Brett Spear, a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the University of Kentucky who uses iPS cells to model liver disease.

But other scientists argue that embryonic stem cell research remains important.

Dr. George Daley, director of the stem cell transplant program at Boston Children's Hospital and past president of the research society, said embryonic cells are a tool in the search for cures.

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Stem-cell advances may quell ethics debate

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