I have suffered from depression my whole adult life. Symptoms of depression and anxiety run in my family. So any story about new treatments for depression always catch my eye. But this one caught my eye for another reason. One of the indications of depression is a reduced hippocampus, a part of the brain that controls, among other things, memory and spatial navigation. Scientists have found a drug that increases the size of the hippocampus and they hope that this will not only treat depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s but cure them.
Gizmodo reports that this new drug just entered human trials and its an entirely new approach to treating clinical depression, which is just one of several diseases the scientists at Neuralstem hope to address with their experimental oral drug. While most antidepressants work on brain chemistry and tweaking levels of neurotransmitters, this is the first treatment aimed at re-growing patient’s atrophied brains and reversing the disease so that they could eventually go off the drug for good. Said Dr. Karl Johe, Neuralstem’s CEO,
“If we can show by MRI that we’ve increased hippocampus volume and at the same time reversed depression symptoms for six months after patients have stopped taking the drug, then we’ll have a cure.”
They discovered this drug by testing several on Neuralstem’s neural stem cell line and seeing which promoted cell growth. Then they tested the most promising one in animals and now NSI-189 is being tested in humans for effectiveness at treating depression.
Anyone who has ever suffered with depression, or know someone who has, is cheering. Depression is devastating and debilitating and curing it would be a great achievement. But that is not what caught my eye. It is that this drug was tested with Neuralstem’s cell line. A cell line that, with a little digging, looks to have come from an aborted fetus. From a Bloomberg press release:
The researchers used a line of neural stem cells developed by Neuralstem Inc., a closely held biotechnology company based in Rockville, Maryland. The company developed the line from fetal tissue donated by a woman who underwent an elective abortion at 8 weeks.
The stem cells, taken from an area near the developing spinal cord of the fetus, have the theoretical ability to develop or differentiate into any of three cell types found in the nervous system. The cells were kept alive in culture and chemically manipulated to keep them from differentiating.
So the question is, would it be ethical to take this drug for depression if it becomes an FDA approved treatment? The manufacture of the drug itself does not require aborted fetal tissue. It was only discovered and developed using cells that look to be obtained from an elective abortion.
I think this situation may be analogous to that of vaccines. Many vaccines are created with cell lines that originated from an aborted fetus. Cell lines MRC-5 and WI-38 are common cell lines used to produce vaccines for rubella, polio, hepatitis A and chicken pox. MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus that was electively aborted in 1966. The WI-38 line was derived from a female fetus that was aborted in 1964.
Many people often argue that using fetal cells from an aborted fetus is morally acceptable because the fetus was going to die anyway. The Catholic Church rejects this argument. If an organism must be intentionally destroyed to harvest cells, then the cells are morally tainted. If these fetal stem cells had come from a natural miscarriage, then it would be morally permissible for parents to donate these cells to research. The morality of fetal cell use is analogous to that of organ donation. If the patient died of natural causes or a traumatic event, then is is morally permissible to use their organs for the benefit of others. It is not morally permissible to intentionally and prematurely end a person’s life and then take their organs for donation. Using fetal stem cells from aborted fetuses is analogous to using organs from death row inmates or victims of euthanasia.
I have written before that it is acceptable for pro-life parents to use these vaccines for their children as long as parents do their homework, request alternatives and voice their objections to health care providers if no alternatives are available. Companies will not change their practices if there are no complaints against their practices.
Which brings me to what truly bothers me about this drug and what Neuralstem, and others like Senomyx, a biotech company that uses aborted fetal cell lines to test flavor enhancers, are doing. There is no mention anywhere on Neuralstem‘s website, as far as I could see, that lets the consumer know where they got the cells for their stem cell line. It could be they no longer use that cell line but I found no information to the contrary. Their recently published articles refer to their neural stem cell lines as “fetal” and “embryonic.” How are consumers supposed to object if they do not even know there is something to object to?
I fear this is the future. Well meaning pro-lifers using drugs and other medical breakthroughs with no knowledge of the unethical practices that brought them to market. This is another disastrous legacy of Roe vs. Wade. A fetus is now considered no more than just tissue and therefore companies do not feel obligated to let patients know that their product was made possible by ripping a fetus from its mother’s womb. These companies could have used cells from a natural miscarriage but instead they chose to morally taint their work by using the cells from the taking of an innocent life. And thanks to the false notion of “reproductive rights” now they do not feel obliged to disclose this very important fact. A fact that would matter greatly to a great many people. If only we knew about it.