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Clone, Stem Cells, Embryologic Experimentation…
Where Are We Going?

By Prof Philippe Piloquet Cytogenetician, Assistant Professor Hospital practitionner.


It has been said that the Church will be condemned by the world because of its moral positions. Let us remain calm: procreation (i.e., how to engender a human) is the most important stone on which our society has been built. At the beginning of this year 2004, the Pontifical Academy for Life has published an ethical manifesto for researchers in which their moral obligations have been clarified. On another side, Didier Sicard, the CCNE president (the French National Consultative Committee for Ethics) said: “The problem is not ethical, but its outrageous utilization". He reminds us to look at what we have named "the scientific progress", while at the same time, science does not accept the limits imposed to its hegemony. Prof. Axel Kahn, the well known genetician, also noted that it is human society which has to fix the limits (to the scientists), not the researchers themselves.

In fact, reality is something different. Occult forces are working in order to enhance some new techniques for human ‘liberty’. Here is a text, written by a physician, answering the following question: "Why be afraid of cloning?" Responses were ambiguous but the main and unique idea was God's death. "The real fear is not the death of God for what concerns God, but it is the death of God for the idea we have on man."

The fear of what could happen? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Ps 110, 10) The former inhabitants of France (named the Gaulois) feared that the sky might fall on their head. It is a fight against Genesis, against human worth seen as a divine creature.

The power of money

Peter Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton, and an Australian philosopher, received in June 2003 the Ethical Prize from the World Technology Network group. In this group we find companies like Microsoft, Science Magazine, Nasdaq (i.e., the financial trust). Here is a quote from one of his publications in order to show you who this man is: "One month will be a reasonable limit for the parents to decide whether their baby have to live or not".

With such ideas, man is reduced to a mere thing — this is what is called ‘reification’ (from the Latin word "res"), — and with this thing, we can do what we want. The famous scientists Watson and Crick, Nobel Prize winners in the early '60s for discovering the helicoidal structure of the DNA molecule, have had the same line of thought fifty years ago. The French politician ‘brother ?’ Caillavet proposed a law with the same meanings in 1980. Such publications are not only provocations.

Today, the law allows contraception and abortion for the youth without their parents’ agreement. Last year, some 6,000 morning-after pills have been prescribed to young girls by school non-medical personnel. Most of these girls (4 out of 5) were under 18 (the French legal age).

Beside medical practices, justice is also far committed in all this. For example, a court decision, in the infamous Perruche affair, pretended to give a right not-to-be-born for a child with a handicap. Similar cases will oblige medical staff to show results. The physician has now become a simple technician without any soul, who has to remove from society a child considered out-of-place.

The usefulness of imperfections

On the contrary, medicine knows that perfection does not exist. The conclusion of a perinatality mission directed by J.F. Mattei (French Health Minister) is that France is the most advanced country in medical and social protection for pregnant women and children. But there is an excess of medication for pregnancies, and as for the results, France is in a middle position. A major cause of this is “the use of more and more sophisticated techniques, a fact which by itself shows its limits. An overuse can lead to useless or iatrogenic acts”. A dressmaker measuring tape is sufficient to look at a growing baby without the systematic use of an echograph.

In the same report, we also see some inequalities in antenatal diagnosis and the idea suggested is to open “birth houses” in which midwives could follow both pregnancy and birth.

In nature, a defect is perhaps the key of an evolutionary system. For example, drepanocytosis, also known as falciform or sickle-shaped anaemia, is a recessive genetic illness. But heterozygotes are resistant to malaria. So some natural mistakes do appear beneficial (heterosis). The most perfect genome can be constituted by two imperfect genomes. To use a mechanical comparison, we can increase the material resistance to crash by adding by some imperfections.
In the research of perfection, man is limited by the ageing of the body, i.e., the cellular death in a first stage, then the death of the whole body. This can explain the enthusiastic research for stem cells. Such cells could repair our body as the waters of youth giving endless youthfulness. It is the myth of immortality (as described in the opera of Faust).

Stem cells

The principal characteristic of these cells is the capability of proliferation without any differentiation or to be able to differentiate itself in one or more tissues. In that way, they contribute to assure the homeostasis of these organs, i.e., their stability in the whole body by maintaining the integrity, the death and birth of new cells. For example, the epidermis is totally renewed every three weeks with a constant thickness.

Stem cells can be divided in four categories:

  • Totipotent, they are the rarest. They come from the blastocyst (the first 4 to 8 cells) during the first embryonic divisions from which an embryo can develop totally and give a complete individual.
  • Pluripotent, also named ES cells (for Embryonic Stem Cells). They are present most numerously in the blastocyst. They have a great proliferation capability, so they can become any tissue. But they are also carcinogenic. These big blastocysts or morula are the well-known supernumerary embryos.
  • Multipotent cells are found in fetuses at the end of the fetal life and more frequently in adults, in the blood and the bone marrow. They can become many tissues.
  • Unipotent cells can give only one type of tissue (epidermic cells for example).

Stem cells have three ways to work

  • Functional differentiation, i.e., selective tissue orientation (the required goal),
  • Cellular fusion,
  • Cytokine or other factors production, i.e., growing stimulating factors.

In the last 3 years, most of the publications on the mode of action of adult stem cells carried scientific errors, and it is pretentious to give absolute conclusions about it.

What can actually be said :

  • - There are very few cells which can undergo trans-differentiation, that is, which can turn to any tissue whatsoever.
  • It seems that stem cells will stick to their target cells, in order to transfer the mitotic potentiality (reproduction), which in turn transfers to the whole organ cells.
  • Today, there is no evidence of trans-differentiation for haematopoietic stem cells, i.e., differentiation coming directly from blood. However, stem cells have been found in mesenchymal bone marrow, giving all the organs derived from mesenchyme (bone, cartilage, adipose fats, and vessels). But these cells grow old faster than normal cells. So it is important to add a telomerase, a protein which interacts with chromosomal ends. These stem cells are also of some interest because of an immuno-suppressor effect, which in turn, acts as an anti-rejection system.
  • Beside these particularities, it has also been observed that they can transform themselves into nervous or cardiac cells. This modification results from their plastic capability. It appears that basal elements are present for cellular reconstruction. But, plans, maps are also necessary, not only ‘pieces of Lego®’, or simple construction blocks.
  • Stem cells or ES cells can bind to one tissue. Thus, it is easy to use them. But if the binding can occur on different tissues, the problem arises how to draw them. This question is the one for the guidance of transplanted cells.

A profit world

The economic factor is very important in European countries which do not want to be left behind. In that way, the European Union will grant for researches on embryonic cells to develop lines (clones) because they can initiate treatments.

So, stem cells have drawn the development of a new medical speciality: restoring medicine. This is the goal for leukemia (malignant haemopathies), imperfect osteogenesis (known as glass-man illness), chronic ischaemia of lower limbs by creating new capillaries, and myocardial infarct by regenerating the cardiac tissue (cardiomyocytes).

Part of these stem cells originating from bone marrow, are able to secrete insulin. It is good news for diabetic therapy. In the same way, some early fetal nerve cells can be used in the treatment of neuro-degenerative illnesses (Parkinson, Huntington or Alzheimer). In Great Britain, such stem cells are already used. However, many publications have given an alert on null, or negative, effects, for the use of such fetal cells in the brain of patients with Parkinson disease because cellular proliferation was not under control.

Why are we going ahead without a solid basis ?

Fundamental research has been neglected, thrown out of the limits of the playground, only to gain faster, but no easier, results. In fact, stem cells researches are an economic stake.

Unknown role of mitochondria

In order to understand the problem in its totality, we have to know that:

  • the number of genes in man is only twice the ones in a drosophilae,
  • the nuclear DNA (nuclear means that this DNA is located principally in the nucleus of the cell) does not represent all the necessary information.

Mitochondria are small cytoplasmic particles working as energy providers. It is known that mitochondrial DNA (abbreviated as mtDNA) is important in genetic transmission. Some researchers have changed learning capacity in mice after some modification of this mtDNA. Some pathologies such as muscular, nervous or ocular are strongly bound to mitochondrial abnormalities.

More interestingly, the evolution of house-fly embryos has been modified by physical or mechanical stresses. Embryogenesis is not completely driven by nucleus genetic information, but takes in account some other information such as the mechanical ones.

Some years ago, it was said that a protein had a role. Now, we said it plays a role, which is not the same. That is why this role is not definitive, but it is given for a time in a specific organ or part of it.

Embryonic and fetal tissues

The stem cells we have described in the first part are taken from embryos or fetuses. This source is inexhaustible. Medically assisted procreation techniques with embryos without parental planning along with voluntary or therapeutic abortion will provide another source of these precious cells, the new "white gold rush".

On the contrary, there is a problem to get ovocytes (ova), because it is not possible to remove a lot of them from a single woman. Researchers are looking how to get more. A collaboration between Israeli and Dutch teams found some in the ovaries from 22 to 33-weeks old girl-fetuses. In vitro, it is possible to initiate the maturation of removed ovocytes removed from adult ovaries.

Here, we can see that an international business of fetal tissues is emerging. For example between Australia and Holland, something like 90,000 fetuses have been exchanged for medical use. This was agreed by local ethical committees. The Australian government wants to test drugs in embryonic cells. Actually, in the US, about 400,000 embryos have been placed in liquid nitrogen. What will be the use of them?

Today, everything is already done, and some scientists are true sorcerers in this that they have ‘created’ bisexual fetuses in order to test the transfer of cells between two or more embryos (these results have been presented in June 2003 at the European Society for Reproduction and Embryology, in Spain).

Researchers from Kazakhstan have transplanted embryonic cells (2-5 weeks old), in a 30-years women suffering of syringomyelitis (dilatation of spinal cord). In such experiments, no tests have been done previously, and results were hazardous. The same team experimented with the same technique on 300 cirrhotic patients. In these two cases, experiments have been done on humans without any previous testing on animals. Countries, like China and Singapore, have practically no ethical restrictions. For example, Huizhen Sheng, in China, performed a nucleus transfer from human to rabbit cells to try getting a rabbit-man chimera. Beside the afflicting project, this will be seen as ‘progress’ for some Olympic sports! Another Chinese scientist, Dr. Hongyuan Huang, has transplanted cells from the nose of a fetus to the spinal cord of 150 paraplegic patients.

Let us anticipate for a moment the time where medicine will be able to use such cells in a controlled and benefic way, if God allows it. We will be faced with a therapeutic choice between life and death for our soul and our faith.

In the utilization of embryos, let us say something about the pre-implantation diagnosis. This diagnosis is used to choose between normal and genetically sick embryos. The second purpose of this diagnosis is to look for an embryo which could be compatible with his/her brother/sister living with a pathology requiring a graft. Here are the famous ‘drugs-babies’.

The French National Committee for Ethics has denied these practices (July 4th, 2002), because the parental intention was first to nurse and save a sick child. The Committee has reconsidered its position, according to the parents’ first wish of having another child. In this case, the diagnosis of selecting embryos was accepted. But what about the limits of such diagnosis? Today, it is approved for serious diseases, but tomorrow, it will be used for the treatment of myopia.

Cloning and pathenogenesis

Firstly, some news from the media. The French have been the first to clone rats. It is important because this laboratory animal can reproduce some human diseases. Then the first mule was cloned between another mule and a donkey. This animal was quite sterile. The first horse to be cloned was born in 2003, the only one from 841 embryos. Rabbit cloning was achieved in France, while Africa successfully cloned a cow, named "Fut" a term meaning ‘Replica’ in Zulu. This cow produces some 78 liters of milk per day.

Everyone say that cloning is for therapeutic stake and not for reproduction. The goal of cloning is to produce compatible tissues with the man receiving the transplantation. It is a choice for a type of society.

Besides cloning, one can find the pathenogenesis, which is a non-sexual reproduction seen in a number of animal species, bees for example. The word comes from the Greek ‘parthenos’, which means virgin, and from the Latin word ‘genesis’, which means generation. How does it work? From stimulated ovocytes, we can obtain a cellular division without fertilization. Thus man can hope from cellular lines to differentiate in some tissues. This was done in monkeys where 4 embryos were obtained following this technique.

The Psychology of the Embryo and of the Fetus

More and more is the embryo viewed as a person and not only as a cellular cluster. Benoit Bayle in his book entitled ‘L'Embryon sur le divan’ (Embryo on the sofa), has captivated us. This author analyzes the influence of an embryo upon his surroundings, and this as soon as he is conceived. Bayle described a psychological pathology which can occur from the early steps in life, even in the womb.

"By his presence, the newly conceived being acts on someone else: he leads some important modifications of the psychic of both the woman and man who have conceived him. With his own identity, both biological and psychological, the human embryo is related to those who give life".

It is well known that the newborn baby can already recognize his mother. Similarly, in the uterus fetal sensibility of the fetus has been known for a long time. At the first International Meeting of Law, Bioethics and Medicine held in Marseille (France September 16-18, 2003) most of speakers agreed to give the status of ‘human being’ to the child from his conception onwards.

The author, B. Bayle, also indicates that medically assisted procreation actually gives more problems than parents resolve, for instance: the choice of which technique to use, how to eliminate an abnormal embryo, psychic problems of a child born after the abortion of his sibling, and in the case of the gift of gametes, difficulties concerning his genealogy.

As a conclusion

Today we know that diet and ageing are related together (as published in the French publication ‘Pour la Science’ March 1996, p. 42). Hypo-caloric diet is the unique way to live longer. It seems that people fasting may have less carcinogenic diseases and, when they get older, their biological parameters are similar to the young one. However, in a hypo-caloric diet, proteins, lipids, vitamins and mineral salts must be in sufficient proportions.

Lastly, some scientist from Crete published a report on the Christian Orthodox diet. It is the well-known Mediterranean diet consisting of fruits and vegetables with a lot of olive oil. This diet was completed with three fasting periods: 40 days before Christmas Day, 48 days before Easter and 15 days in August for the Assumption. Church precepts do bear fruits. The biological constants of those who follow such a diet are really better, even outside the fasting periods, than those in the ‘controlled’ population eating a normal diet.

The pharmaceutical industry is spending a lot of money seeking new active molecules. New medications are fewer. Most of the laboratories are looking toward natural products. Creation appears to be a unique system. Apart from Linne's fixist theories, it is logical to think that all the molecules able to treat us are still present in nature.

Brazil did begin a 4 year national program for cataloging all the plants and especially the ones with pharmacological properties. For example, the universal ‘Aspirin’ is a molecule extracted from the Salicila alba L . Two anti-carcinogenic drugs have been found in the malgachian Vinca sp and European Taxus baccata, L. A book is entitled ‘The Pharmacy of God’. In the Bible (Eccl. 38,3) we can read the following sentence: “The most High hath created medicines out of the earth, and a wise man will not abhor them”

In the same way, a wide sort of stem cells exists in nature. Today, the more useful and promising ones are present in the hematopoietic bone marrow. In an adult, this marrow is restricted to some bones: sternum, iliac creets, vertebras and ribs. It is marvelous to see the parallel between this permanence of stem cells and Eve's creation from Adam's rib. Perhaps, science could explain Creation.

Prof. Ph Piloquet
(Translated by Dr. Ph. Letteron)


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