Shhh, Don't Tell Anyone: Dolly the Sheep Pioneer Recommends Shifting Away From Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bradley Fikes at the North County Times, whose coverage area is mostly the northern portion of San Diego County in California, appears to have broken a quite significant story last Thursday when he reported that cloning pioneer Ian Wilmut of Dolly the sheep fame (4,250 stories from 1996-2003 were found in the Google New archive) urged stem cell scientists, as Fikes headlined, to "shift away from embryonic stem cells." Wilmut, speaking at a stem cell research conference in nearby La Jolla, advocated instead for stronger pursuit of direct reprogramming of stem cells.

Five days later, searches at Google News on "Dolly sheep" (not in quotes) and Wilmut's name surfaced about a half-dozen other results, virtually all from religious and pro-life publications, and none from the establishment press. The same two searches at the Associated Press's main site (Dolly sheep; Ian Wilmut also come up empty. Here are key paragraphs from the report by Fikes (bold is mine):


Cloning pioneer urges shift away from embryonic stem cells

Newer and safer forms of stem cell therapy will likely overtake research into the use of human embryonic stem cells, the scientist whose team cloned Dolly the sheep told his peers at a stem cell conference in La Jolla.

Direct "reprogramming" of adult cells into the type needed for therapy is gradually becoming a reality, Ian Wilmut told an audience of several hundred at the Salk Institute at the annual Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa. Such a feat was once thought impossible, but in recent years it has been demonstrated in at least two publications, he said.

These reprogrammed cells appear likely to provide the anticipated benefits of embryonic stem cells without their risks, such as forming tumors. That risk will make government very reluctant to approve the use of cells derived from embryonic cells when a safer alternative is feasible, said Wilmut, whose team of researchers cloned Dolly the sheep nearly 15 years ago.

... it's been unclear which types of stem cells would prove most useful: the "adult" kind that have a more limited potential to change, or the embryonic kind. The emergence of direct reprogramming provides a promising new option scientists should consider, Wilmut said.

"I'm not quite sure why this hasn't been pursued more actively," Wilmut said.

It is difficult to achieve purity in embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells because they are prone to forming tumors.

Direct reprogramming of cells from one type to the other avoids that danger, because the cells never enter the pluripotent stage to begin with, Wilmut said.

Sadly, Wilmut's uncertainty as to why adult stem cell research, especially that of the direct reprogramming variety, hasn't been pursued more vigorously lies in what seems to be an antilife bias bordering on obsessive in certain parts of the scientific research community and the government. Coupled with Geron Corp.'s mid-November decision to get out of embryonic research -- a decision the Associated Press laughably headlined as a "symbolic ding" and described as a "symbolic setback" in its text instead of as the "atom bomb of a story that will have a serious effect on the entire regenerative medical sector" as characterized by Wesley Smith at National Review's The Corner -- Wilmut's recommendation will hopefully be the beginning of the end for life-taking embryonic research.

Maybe the establishment press will figure it out about five years from now -- if ever.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.