By Aaron Klein
As the debate about abortion and stem cell research reignites in the U.S., it may be instructive to note that not all stem cell research is utilized for medical purposes.
Stem cells derived from aborted fetuses are used in the U.S. for food and cosmetic research, with one San Francisco-based beauty company notoriously incorporating cell lines in many of its products, including anti-aging face and eye creams.
Some of those creams received awards in recent months from popular U.S. entertainment magazines Elle and InStyle.
Earlier this week, an anti-abortion activist group released an online video that it claims evidences methods in which Planned Parenthood not only sells fetal organs for a profit – a felony in the U.S. – but even alters standard abortion practices in order to preserve fetal organs.
Planned Parenthood denied the accusations, saying 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 abortion group’s spokesman, Eric Ferrero, told reporters Planned Parenthood harvested the 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 3-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.”
The issue clearly has reinvigorated the debate about abortion and stem cell research using tissue harvested from aborted fetuses.
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 seems to engineer 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 relate 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 that “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.
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 that “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, stating, “We feel we are in complete compliance with the laws of God and the laws of man.”
Asked for his comment on the use of stem cells in beauty products, such as face creams, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, senior biology professor and chair of Jewish Medical Ethics at Yeshiva University, told KleinOnline, “There’s a concept of human dignity. Human tissue was given the priorities over all of nature by biblical ethics.
“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 any way 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.