By Aaron Klein
Traditional biblical Jewish law prohibits the use of aborted-fetus stem cells for lifestyle enhancement purposes such as face creams and the testing of food-flavor products, contends Jewish medical-ethics professor Rabbi Moshe David Tendler.
Tendler is chairman of the Jewish Medical Ethics department at Yeshiva University in New York City, where he also serves as a senior rabbi and professor of biology.
The author of seminal books on medical Jewish ethics, Tendler is widely regarded as the country’s leading expert on medical ethics as it pertains to Jewish law. He chairs the bioethical commission of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Medical Ethics Task Force of UJA-Federation of Greater New York, the world’s largest local philanthropy.
Tendler was speaking after an anti-abortion activist group released a video last week that it claims shows Planned Parenthood sells fetal organs for a profit – a felony in the U.S. – and even alters standard abortion practices to preserve the organs.
Planned Parenthood denied the accusations, insisting it does not sell the human tissue but instead donates the tissue to scientific research while only being reimbursed for expenses, which the group maintains is legal
The issue clearly has reinvigorated the debate about abortion and stem-cell research using tissue harvested from aborted fetuses.
KleinOnline reported last week stem cells have been used in the U.S. to test food-flavoring and taste-enhancement products. One San Fransisco-based beauty company notoriously incorporates cell lines from an aborted fetus in many of its products, including anti-aging face and eye creams.
Some of the creams received awards in recent months from popular U.S. entertainment magazines Elle and InStyle.
In an interview with KleinOnline, Tendler explained abortion is prohibited under Jewish law unless it is carried out to save the life of the mother.
However, if stem cells have already been harvested, he explained, the Orthodox Jewish position “is that if it leads to the saving of life or research that is of benefit to society it is allowed.”
Tendler said the “abortus,” a term for an aborted fetus, “has a divine dignity in the traditional biblical law.”
“You can do to an abortus what you can do to a live person – like a biopsy study, removal of tissue from an organ,” he explained. “That which is done in medical practice for the benefit of the patient can be done to the abortus as well.”
The “divine dignity” concept of an aborted fetus would not allow the harvested stem cells to be used in face creams or to test food flavors, he argued.
“There’s a concept of human dignity. Human tissue is not animal tissue. Human tissue is not vegetable tissue. [It is] tissue that was given priority over all of nature by biblical ethics,” Tendler said.
“We would never approve the use of human tissue for the use of face cream,” he said. “Besides, the fact is that it is probably a hoax, and it doesn’t work anyway, and it’s nothing more than a sales gimmick.
“I’m here in Israel, and I recommend Dead Sea mud as the cosmetic we have in nature,” he joked.
Abortion body parts: Not just for medical research
As the debate about abortion and stem cell research reignites in the U.S. following the Planned Parenthood accusations, KleinOnline reported last week that not all stem cell research is utilized for medical purposes.
The abortion group’s spokesman, Eric Ferrero, told reporters Planned Parenthood harvests aborted fetal tissue “with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.”
The California anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, which released a nearly three-hour long undercover video, charged “Planned Parenthood’s criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts reaches to the very highest levels of their organization.”
While much of the debate centers around medical research, stem cells are also utilized for lesser-known lifestyle uses.
For example, Senomyx, a company that researches and sells flavor-boosting products to major worldwide food conglomerates, utilizes Human Embryonic Kidney cells, or HEK-293, in many of its research patents.
The company does not use the stem cells in actual products, but it engineers HEK-293 cells for laboratory testing, using the cell lines to simulate the taste-receptor cells in the human mouth.
HEK-293 cells are also used widely in pharmaceutical research and have been instrumental in the creation of numerous vaccines and drugs.
Senomyx boasts on its website its products “are used by many of the world’s leading food and beverage companies.”
“Like most flavor ingredients, Senomyx’s flavor boosters and flavors are used in miniscule quantities in foods and beverages. Our products are blended with other ingredients to create appealing new flavors.”
Senomyx sells its Complimyx brand flavor ingredients — titled Sweetmyx, Savorymyx and Bittermyx — to flavor companies for use in a wide variety of foods and beverages.
Two April 2015 press releases say Senomyx maintains research partnerships with Nestle, PepsiCo and the Swiss-based Firmenich, the world’s largest privately owned company in the fragrance and flavor business.
It was not immediately clear which research collaboration utilizes the HEK-293.
PepsiCo previously released a statement clarifying its relationship with Senomyx is to “help us reduce sugar in future products.”
“Senomyx does not provide ingredients to PepsiCo, nor does it manufacture PepsiCo products,” continued the statement
PepsiCo stated: “Senomyx is required to abide by our responsible research statement for any work they conduct for PepsiCo.”
The statement includes a clause stating PepsiCo does not “conduct or fund research that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from human embryos.”
Following some negative publicity on the reported use of HEK-293 in Senomxy research products in 2011, the term “HEK-293″ cannot be found on the company’s website or in any promotional material.
However, a KleinOnline search of the U.S. Patent Collection database finds Senomyx filed 156 patents and that the majority of those utilized HEK-293 cells in its research, some quite extensively.
In one of over 100 examples, the company’s patent titled “Compounds that inhibit (block) bitter taste in composition and use thereof” details the research process of using HEK-293 cells to simulate human taste receptors to test products.
The cells were also utilized in research tasting for numerous “sweet flavor modifier” patents and other patents testing “bitter” flavors.
This does not mean Senomyx requires a constant stream of aborted fetus kidney cells to test its products.
In fact, HEK-293 cell lines used in modern research all were derived from human embryonic kidney cells from one fetus aborted legally under Dutch law and cultured in 1973 in Leiden, The Netherlands. HEK-293 cells used today are drawn from that one cell line.
Senomxy did not respond to a KleinOnline request seeking comment about the use of HEK-293 in its research.
In 2011, Gwen Rosenberg, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications for Senomyx, told Laine Doss of the Miami Herald, “We don’t discuss details of our research, but you won’t find anything on our website about HEK-293.”
When asked by the Herald reporter whether Senomyx had a position on stem-cell research, Rosenberg replied, “We’ve never been asked that.
“We don’t have a position on anything. We’re dedicated to finding new flavors to reduce sugars and reduce salt. Our focus is to help consumers with diabetes or high blood pressure have a better quality of life,” Rosenberg said.
U.S. entertainment magazines celebrate ‘fetus’ face cream
Meanwhile, human embryonic stem cells are also utilized in cosmetic research and products.
Neocutis Inc., based in San Francisco, has developed a series of beauty product lines from processed Skin Cell Proteins, or PSP, which, as the company has openly discussed, are derived from a 14-week-old aborted male fetus.
The cells were developed at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland after the fetus was donated by the parents for medical research.
The company states on its website “the small skin donation that, ultimately, made the development of our treatment possible originated from a single terminated pregnancy that could not survive to term and was deemed medically necessary by the attending physicians.”
“This voluntary donation to medical research was granted by the parents with their written consent, and was performed in adherence with strict Swiss laws that regulate organ donations and similar procedures.”
The company clarified that “our products do not directly use the originally donated tissue in any way.”
Continued the Neocutis statement: “We only use proteins derived from cultured skin cells (grown from a dedicated cell bank). These were not embryonic stem cells. No other donation will ever be necessary. In fact, this cell bank enables the production of some 900 million biological bandages for patients suffering from severe wounds, burns and other serious skin conditions.”
The cell line is used in Neocutis products such as Bio-Restorative Skin Cream, Bio-Gel Bio-Restorative Hydrogel, Lumiere Bio-Restorative Eye Cream and Bio-Restorative Serum with PSP Intensive Spot Treatment.
In the May 2015 issue of InStyle magazine, KleinOnline found, Neocutis received five “Best Beauty Buy” awards for three of their anti-aging products, including LUMIÈRE eye cream, which the company writes is “powered by 30 percent more PSP to help smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
The PSP, or Skin Cell Proteins, were derived from the human cell line.
KleinOnline found the company’s BIO CRÈME was featured in the 2015 Elle Beauty Genius Awards Hall of Fame. The cream is openly marketed as “the first and original skincare cream formulated with patented PSP.”
Neocutis President Mark J. Lemko invoked the “laws of God” in an email response to critics.
“We feel we are in complete compliance with the laws of God and the laws of man,” he wrote.