This is a difficult controversy/situation and has come up before. While other scientists do not agree with this, it is important to look at all points of view.
VATICAN CITY, April 23, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – One of the top researchers in the field of stem cells has said that iPS (induced pluripotent) stem cells, the “embryo-like” cells hailed by many as the answer to the ethical problems presented by embryonic stem cells, are “probably” actually already embryos and have already, with the right conditions and treatment in the lab, developed into “complete animals” in experiments.
At the time of their discovery in 2007, iPS cells were hailed by both the research community and many in the pro-life world as a solution to the problem of obtaining pluripotent cells – those capable of producing all the tissue types of the body – without destroying human embryos. In 2012 Dr. Gurdon and Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work surrounding the development of iPS cells.
Since their discovery, however, some ethicists have warned of various problems with iPS cells, including the fact that cells derived from embryos have been used in the process of creating the iPS cells. Some also warned that iPS cells could give rise to complete organisms and are, in fact, indistinguishable from embryonic cells that can be induced to begin replication as whole embryos. According to his own papers, Yamanaka said that some of the cells obtained through his process are “pluripotent,” while some are “totipotent,” which means they can spontaneously become embryos and start to develop into a mature organism.
LifeSiteNews.com spoke with Dr. Dianne Irving, a former bench biochemist researcher with the National Institutes of Health in the US, who confirmed Dr. Gurdon’s assertion, saying, “Some iPS cell are potentially embryos.”
Yamanaka himself stated in his research paper that in a test in the lab for signs of pluripotency, some of the iPS cells obtained “tested positive for embryonic antigens, not for pluripotent antigens,” explained Irving.
“Those were embryos,” she added. “So according to that assay some of the iPS cells are already embryos. Most of them are not, but have the potential to be reverted back.”
Some of the procedures used to create iPS cells, Irving continued, “take the DNA back too far, and end up with a new single cell embryo or a totipotent, rather than pluripotent cell, one that has the capacity to revert back to a new embryo”.
Irving described the process of “regulation,” a natural part of the embryo’s genetic systems, which automatically reacts to changes in an embryonic cell to correct genetic damage and reassert the direction of development to produce a whole embryo with the normal complement of 46 chromosomes. This process can also revert the DNA in a separated totipotent cell to what it needs to function as an embryo rather than just a “cell.”
“It may not be well known or understood in the public,” Irving said, “but in the scientific research community, it is well known that sometimes a pluripotent iPS cell could, through this process of regulation, spontaneously revert to being totipotent, which can then become an embryo.”
“This has long been documented in the scientific literature. It’s not new,” she added.