Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: An Alternative to Embryonic Stem Cells?


Human stem cell research is a new field with much promise, but progress towards a clinical setting has been complicated by scientific and ethical challenges. The most heated discussion over stem cell research has focused on the source of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Different views on the moral status of the human embryo have plagued all aspects of the debate (and decision-making).

In 2006, a way of de-differentiating somatic cells to a pluripotent state was realised. The advent of these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) appeared to circumvent concerns over embryo destruction, and hence iPSCs have been touted as an ethical way forward. However, for the foreseeable future, scientific investigations involving iPSCs are likely to drive further embryo destruction. As a result, iPSC research is complicit in embryo destruction and is inextricably locked in to the moral status debate.

I argue that a new approach is needed to deal with the serious uncertainties and indeterminate probabilities intrinsic to stem cell research and decision-making surrounding it. I conclude that in the current state of knowledge, stem cell research needs to continue and be allowed to unfold as the narrative of a story. A way forward may lie in utilising Plato’s theory of aporia, and by taking cues from Greek Tragedy regarding the resolution of tragic tradeoffs. In summary, it is important to pursue further stem cell research, with both ESCs and iPSCs. Nonetheless, as we learn more it will be important to continually reassess the implications of developments, and be prepared to rethink what may constitute the most ethical and practical ways forward.