Many scientists consider stem cell research as the hope for sparking healing and regeneration in degenerative organs. They are researching potential applications for limb regeneration, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and other chronic ailments. Can stem cell research solve mankind's ailments? Could the elusive "fountain of youth" be waiting just around the corner?
A recent U.S. News & World Report article by Katherine Hobson discusses the morally controversial harvesting and use of embryonic stem cells and the experimental, seemingly less controversial, possibility of using induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. These hybrid iPS cells are created by coaxing normal adult stem cells, readily found in the skin, heart, and bone marrow, back to an immature state. It is believed that iPS cells will one day displace the importance of harvesting embryonic stem cells, but will this eliminate the moral controversy of stem cell research? Is mankind pushing scientific boundaries beyond what God intended?
Adult stem cells, used in bone marrow transplants for over 40 years, are harvested from the patient – the most resilient cells are then extracted and concentrated, and re-injected into the patient's body to a targeted area using a virus or protein delivery system. But, it is in embryonic stem cells that the limitations of reprogramming into other cell types are lifted and where the exponential benefit of embryonic stem cells lies. They can become practically any type of human tissue, making them a more appealing option than non-hybrid adult stem cells.
The article adds that, "Geron, a biotechnology company … this year won the Food and Drug Administration's approval to conduct the first-ever study of embryonic stem cells in humans." So, it seems, despite the ethical considerations, mankind will now move forward with the testing of embryonic stem cells in humans. However, there are risks. Embryonic stem cells can form tumors. Additionally, they are foreign – like a transplanted organ – and require powerful anti-immunity drugs to prevent rejection.
"It's that latter problem [use of anti-immunity drugs] that makes scientists particularly excited about iPS cells, which would have the clinical potential of embryonic cells but can be created from a patient's own cells. Reprogramming an adult cell into an embryo-like, more malleable state sidesteps the issue of immune rejection, not to mention the moral debate," the article suggests.
But, does it really sidestep the moral debate? What are the motivating factors for this type of research? Could it be that mankind is simply trying to circumvent the aging process in order to cheat death? If mankind could replace, by regeneration, the cells in a body, it is feasible to consider – if one's body does not age or degenerate, it could continue on indefinitely, thus extending the life of an individual beyond his or her natural length of time.
God states in His word: "The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow" (Psalm 90:10). Notice, too: "it is appointed for men to die once" (Hebrews 9:27).
In a beautifully poetic manner we read of the patriarch Abraham, "Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people" (Genesis 25:8). God's will in regard to death is a productive life and a peaceful passing.
Scientists are reaching beyond the bounds of God's intended purpose. They are trying to cheat death. Only through a profound relationship with the Creator God can one live beyond the bounds of this temporary physical life, and that only through a resurrection from the dead.