Stem cells from skin reports New Scientist, 3 March 2001, p6. No, this is not a method of growing plants on people. Stem cells are unspecialised cells that are capable of giving rise to different types of specialised cells. They are formed in early embryonic development where they eventually give rise to cells that become specialised into all the different functional cells in the body, e.g. skin, heart, muscle, brain, etc. Researchers are PPL Therapeutics of Blackburg, Virginia have taken skin cells from an adult and cultured them is such a way they turned back into stem cells and could then be made to specialise into other types of cells. This research could lead to a method of providing new tissue for treating many diseases. Ethicists and theologians have welcomed the report as much as scientists have, because it was previously thought that stem cells could only be obtained from embryos. Some scientists have wanted to grow human embryos in laboratories to obtain stem cells but this would mean deliberately creating human embryos knowing you are going to kill them in order to cannibalise their parts.

Editorial Comment: This issue is a good example of how scientific research cannot be separated from religion or world view. The Bible clearly states that human beings were made in the image of God and have a special status in the world that prevents them from being treated like animals or cell cultures. There is no doubt that a source of new tissue is needed to treat many human diseases but it must be done within the Creator’s guidelines. The best solution would be to grow new tissue from a person’s own cells. If all the research money and effort that has gone into human embryo stem cell research had been put into finding another source of stem cells it is possible that a method of growing new tissue from a person’s own cells could be developed sooner.

Deliberately growing human embryos to use as sources of stem cells is banned in many countries but politicians are being lobbied to allow it because of its claimed potential for treating many human diseases. Such lobbyists claim that embryos are the only source of the cells, and the research should not be hundred by religious minorities. Hopefully the PPL Therapeutics study will help politicians resist such pressure, but ultimately they will have to make a scientific decision on the basis of their religious view of human beings. (Ref. man, stem cells, philosophy)