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Stem cell research Michael Goldsmith’s recent opinion piece, “Embryonic Stem Cell Research: New approach to funding” [ NLJ, Feb. 12], propagates two significant misconceptions about human embryos and human embryonic stem cells, respectively. First, Goldsmith states, “No amount of nurturing will enable a frozen embryo thawed in a petri dish to become a human being.” His misconception is in not recognizing that a frozen embryo is already a human being. Essentially all life on planet Earth begins as undeveloped forms, embryos. This is the natural order of life, including human life. Scientifically, a single-cell human embryo is just as much a human being as an aged centenarian. So, although we may decide to have a public discussion on whether we will treat embryos with the same moral and ethical respect as more developed human beings, scientifically we cannot say that embryos are not human beings, too. Goldsmith’s second misconception is a pervasive false belief in the human embryonic stem cell debate. He, like many others, has been misled to believe that human embryonic stem cells can be used to treat injuries and diseases in mature tissues. They cannot. Embryonic stem cells, which are an artificial creation of embryo research, lack essential properties that are required to maintain normal mature tissue function. Adult stem cells derived from mature tissues have these properties; and as such they are the only type of human stem cells that have actual potential for development of new therapies for debilitating diseases like those considered by Goldsmith. So the only viable “new approach to finding” for new cellular therapies for mature tissues is to increase funding for scientifically sound adult stem cell research, which at the same time preserves the humanity of human embryos. JAMES L. SHERLEY, M.D., PH.D.CAMBRIDGE, MASS. The writer is associate professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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