My heart almost stopped when I read the headline on Wednesday’s BBC article, “Human ‘cloning’ makes embryonic stem cells.” At first glance, I thought that the Holy Grail of embryonic stem cell research had been found: a way to generate personalized stem cells by cloning a person, then destroying (killing) the clone at the early embryonic stage in order to retrieve the stem cells that are oh, so tantalizing for the cures that they might hold: fixing everything from diabetes to heart disease to Alzheimer’s to aging itself.
However, a closer read of the story shows that we are no nearer the Grail than before. Cloning involves removing the DNA from a donated egg cell and replacing it with the DNA from the somatic cell of another person, making that egg cell into a genetic duplicate or clone of the person; the clone can then grow and develop stem cells. But what the scientists actually did here was to create a genetic hybrid: an embryo that contains both the DNA of the woman who donated the egg cell, and the DNA of the person to be “cloned.” This means that each cell of the resulting embryo has three copies of each chromosome, rather than the two that each of our cells normally carry. Leaving aside for the moment the ethical questions surrounding deliberately creating something/someone so abnormal (there’s a whole book to be written there) and deliberately killing embryonic human beings, the insurmountable problems of using stem cells that are so genetically abnormal make them useless for any “cures.”
Meanwhile, a story in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune reports on antioxidants, “one of the hottest buzzwords in the health and wellness industry. Manufacturers have emblazoned it on everything from water and cereal to alcoholic drinks.” Theoretically, antioxidants, by cleaning up free radicals, can help slow the processes associated with damage caused by free radicals such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and even aging.
The problem, of course, is that there is little to no evidence that antioxidants actually do anything of the sort, and there is good evidence that in some circumstances they may be harmful. Nevertheless, hundreds of products with antioxidant claims are developed yearly.
What’s the connection between the two stories? Two therapies that don’t work , but for which the public is willing to spend gazillions of dollars. Two therapies that promise, as an antidote to degenerative diseases, regeneration — restoration — to some, the hope of eternal youth, even eternal life.
From the numbers of people who buy into these forms of snake oil, it appears that the longings for regeneration and eternal life run deep in our race. As Christians who have experienced regeneration, and who have met the only true source of Eternal Life, we just might be able to offer some true hope in place of the hucksters’ hope to which so many cling.