Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Research

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Stem cells are cells that can form into any type of cell, they are found in bone marrow, embryos, fetuses, and blood from the umbilical cord. Early in development, a human embryo is made up of a hollow ball of cells called a “blastocyst”. Blastocyst cells divide and eventually develop into all of the tissues and organs of a human being, a process called “differentiation”. Embryonic stem cells can be grown in the laboratory from blastocysts and made to differentiate into nerve, liver, muscle, blood, and other cells. Scientists hope to control the differentiation of the cells to replace cells in diseased organs in human beings. Embryonic stem cells can also be used to test the effects of new drugs without harming animals or people.

In adult human beings, stem cells are found in many places in the body, including the skin, liver, bone marrow, and muscles. In the organs, stem cells remain inactive until they are needed. The stem cells supply each organ with cells needed to replace damaged or dead cells. Bone marrow stem cells divide to produce more stem cells, additional cells called “precursor cells”, and all of the different cells that make up the blood and immune system. Precursor cells have the ability to form many different types of cells, but they cannot produce more stem cells. Scientists can isolate bone marrow stem cells to use as donor cells in transplants. Adult stem cells, however, are rare and more difficult to detect and isolate. The discovery and isolation of embryonic stem cells has led to debate over whether it is right to use cells taken from human embryos for research. People have expressed concern about using human embryos and collecting some of their cells.

Some people consider embryos already to be human beings. The embryos are destroyed in the process of isolating the stem cells. Once removed from an embryo, stem cells alone cannot form another embryo or develop into a human being. Many people consider it wrong to destroy human embryos, but other people believe that the potential medical benefits of stem cells justify their use. Scientists have found that stem cells can grow into 210 types of cells in the human body. Scientists believe that these cells can be used to cure many diseases that they have tried to find a cure for.

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Such as Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Parkinson’s and even AIDS. There are so many things that stem cells can do but scientists are limited to their research. There are many people who are opposed to testing of stem cells because of where many of them are obtained. The best type of stem cell comes from an embryo in its early stages these cells can form into any types of cell.

In order for you to understand the purpose of stem cell research you must look at it with an open mind with out letting your morals compromise what you are reading. Newly formed embryos are microscopic groupings of different cells. Scientists believe that the introduction of healthy cells into a sick patient will restore the lost function of the affected part. “Every day, nearly 3000 people die while waiting for an organ transplant” (D’Agnese) and there are more than 66,000 people on an organ donor list. Studies on stem cell research hold an answer for these many people trying to hold onto life. As of 2001 scientist could develop stem cells into more than 110 different types of tissues, such as blood, brain or heart tissue (Stem Cell Facts).

Now begins the dilemma, if these cells can be so useful why are they not being used? Research on stem cells are still ongoing the first stem cell was discovered in 1998, though many advances have been made since then this is still a relatively new topic of scientists. On November 5, 2001 a company called Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) was the first to actually clone an embryo with the hope of obtaining stem cells without destroying more embryos. With this experiment scientists tried to use new eggs which had their nuclei removed, rather than making a copy of the cell. These cells developed from one to eight cells but no stem cells were produced. This might seem like a failure but it shows there is hope that it could be done. There are many reasons to help prove the fact that the use of stem cells does not equal the destruction of a life. Supporters if stem cell research believe that embryos composed of only a few cells that are being stored in a lab are not alive, because they are frozen. They may have once had the potential to live, and though this potential was lost, it is not because of stem cell research. Many of the cells that are being used come from ended pregnancies when life would not develop anyway. If an embryo were to go unused, why not use it instead to save another life? There are actually 110,000 embryos being stored in the United States alone, with no life insight for them (Stem Cell Facts). These embryos should be used to help other instead of being discarded. In the near future these cells may come from the “embryo’s” the ACT created.

Many people still disagree about weather embryonic cells should be used in medicine; they ask if the process that is being done is really cloning. Is it cloning when a scientist determines the fate of a cell? It may seem as so to some, because scientist are turning cells into something they directed it to. Others do not see it that way, because what is seen in the end is not an identical copy of what it is in the end. There are many who believe this only medical cloning because no life is being form, only a life is being saved.

This is such a hot topic that there have been bills passed against cloning of humans, in 1997 President Clinton passed such a bill.

In January 2002 President Bush’s Council on Bioethics met to discuss the issue of cloning stem cells. The council made a unanimous decision that cloning a human being as potential to be quite dangerous should be outlawed by Congress. But what about the “cloning” of stem cells? President Bush addressed the Nation in the fall of 2001 on the issue if stem cell research. According to white house columnist Eric Draper, this topic is being heavily debated in Bush’s administration, because they must decide whether to federally fund stem cell research. Scientists believe that progress will come much more rapidly with help from the Government. The President does acknowledge that there is promise in this research, but he said that he is still debating himself on the definition of human life. Bush said that he holds strong on his decision to ban reproductive cloning, but he is also a strong supporter of research and technology. With this, Bush decided that he would fund research on stem cells, but only with stem cell lines that already exist, such as the ones that are stored in labs. He believes that this will lesson the controversy about stem cells because it could help appease both sides of the subject (Hoffman). Did this appease both sides? No, there are still many who oppose this research and the are fewer than 30 stem cell lines available to scientists. Because of this scientists research and application of such is very limited. In the recent months you have heard more and more about stem cell research more in those who want to see it happen. There are many notable people who have gone public with their belief and there opposed view of the president's decision that scientists must be given an open field to study if something is to be found. Many things can come out of this besides cures for disease and the reproduction of new organs for those in need of a transplant. Every person has a right to choose so let them if you are faced with a disease and need a transplant and the Doctor tells you he could get you a new organ but it was created from stem cells or you could wait on a list for a donor which would you choose?

On November 27, 2004 Swiss voters backed the 2003 proposal of stem cell research. Switzerland is the first country to allow complete stem cell research. Under the 2003 law, stem-cell research can only be conducted using fertilized eggs not older than seven days that are left over from fertility treatment. The written consent of the couple who produced the embryos is required before their stem cells can be used and each research project must be approved by an ethics committee (Fleck). Could this be a growing trend will President Bush change his mind now that he sees what other countries are doing. Though research is limited in the U.S. there have been some break through with using stem cells to help those with disease. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms that stem cells derived from the umbilical cords of newborn babies are a viable and effective transplant source for thousands of leukemia patients who have no other treatment option. "As many as 16,000 leukemia patients diagnosed each year require a bone marrow transplant, but have no matched relative or can't find a match in the national bone marrow registry," says Mary J. Laughlin, MD, lead author on the study and hematologist oncologist at Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and University Hospitals of Cleveland Ireland Cancer Center. "Umbilical cords that are normally discarded after birth could provide real hope for these patients." Cord blood transplantation provides leukemia patients with stem cells, enabling them to produce healthy blood cells in a procedure previously shown to be highly effective in children with the disease. As a stem cell source, umbilical cord blood is not controversial and readily available; in fact, cord blood is normally discarded after a baby's birth.

In South Korea Doctors used stem cells from “cord blood” to repair a woman’s spine. The woman who has been paralyzed for nearly 20 years can now walk gain. They said it was the world's first published case in which a patient with spinal cord injuries had been successfully treated with stem cells from umbilical cord blood. Though they cautioned that more research was needed and verification from international experts was required, the South Korean researchers said Hwang's case could signal a leap forward in the treatment of spinal cord injuries. So-called "multipotent" stem cells those found in cord blood are capable of forming a limited number of specialized cell types, unlike the more versatile "undifferentiated" cells that are derived from embryos. However, these stem cells isolated from umbilical cord blood have emerged as an ethical and safe alternative to embryonic stem cells. Clinical trials with embryonic stem cells are believed to be years away because of the risks and ethical problems involved in the production of embryos regarded as living humans by some people for scientific use. In contrast, there is no ethical dimension when stem cells from umbilical cord blood are obtained, according to researchers. Additionally, umbilical cord blood stem cells trigger little immune response in the recipient as embryonic stem cells have a tendency to form tumors when injected into animals or human beings.

California passed a $3 billion fun for stem cell research, the newly established California Institute for Regenerative Medicine will divvy out as much as $350 million in annual grants over the next decade to support stem-cell science in the state, be it embryonic, adult or cord-blood research. Proponents say the measure could generate millions in revenue and up to 22,000 new jobs a year in the state. "If you're a scientist who's ambitious and wants to do research that has high impact," says Larry Goldstein, a stem-cell biologist at the University of California, San Diego, "this is the place to be". At Harvard, stem-cell scientists are pushing ahead with bold and ambitious research. Earlier this year, researcher Doug Melton created 17 new human embryonic-stem-cell lines using private funding. Melton, co director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, launched last spring, says he has since isolated an additional 11 lines, surging past the government's stockpile of 22. Already, he has shipped out more than 300 samples, mostly to scientists in England, Israel, Singapore and Australia, where embryonic-stem-cell research is less restricted; now the requests are coming in from California, too. Melton hopes to use somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), or therapeutic cloning, to create new embryonic-stem-cell lines that have built-in genetic diseases, like diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The payoff: scientists could watch genes trigger diseases rather than working backward and trying to figure out what went wrong in patients who are already sick.

Even with these medical break throughs and see what can be done many still oppose this. National Right to Life's Douglas Johnson calls that distinction "artificial." Any kind of cloning, he says, "requires the killing of human embryos." And while some states are becoming stem cell meccas, others, like Illinois, where lawmakers narrowly voted against endorsing embryonic stem cell research last month, are stepping back from the topic. At the federal level, meanwhile, Bush has stood firm on his 2001 policy; when asked if he might relax restrictions now that the election is over, a White House spokesman said, simply, "No." That's not what the scientists want to hear. U.S. government funding supports the vast majority of basic scientific research in this country. While developments at the state level are exciting, says Black, "we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that this replaces federal support." Scientists worry that without ample money from the government, which mandates strict oversight and peer-reviewed data, critical findings could be kept under wraps and scientific innovation trapped within state borders. Under Bush's current policy, a scientist cannot use a microscope or petri dishes bought with federal funds to study new embryonic stem cells created with private money. A patchwork of state laws, some of which clash with federal policy, will make things only more complicated, says Harvard's Melton, and might even lead to a scenario of official and unofficial information. "That might work for the CIA," he says, "but not for science." Even if embryonic stem cells don’t help tomorrow, stem cell scientists believe that the biological lessons learned along the way, how healthy life develops, how diseased cells go bad could help those out down the road develop a cure.

So many steps have been made in ways of using stem cells to help people with disease, but there are still many factors against scientists from learning more. Many government officials are opposed to this because they must please everyone, but in the long run they might be hurting more people by not allowing scientists to study embryonic stem cells then the “potential” life those embryos could have had. Especially if embryonic cloning is allowed no “potential” lives will be compromised because there would have been no life at all!

Sources Cited

D'Agnese, Joseph. "The Debate Over Stem Cells Gets Hot". Discover 23 (Jan.2002):1.

Fleck, Fiona. “Swiss Voters Back Stem-Cell Research.” New York Times 28 Nov. 2004.Web. 4 May 2012.

Hanna, Kathi E. "Cloning/Embryonic Stem Cells." National Human Genome Research  Institute. Apr. 2010. National Institutes of Health. Web. 4 May 2012.

Hoffman, William. “Stem Cell Policy: World Stem-Cell Map.” MMBNet. U of Minnesota Medical School.  Web. 18 May 2012.

"Stem Cell Facts" Web. 5 May 2012.

Sources Consulted

What's New. Stem Cell Research Foundation. 2012. Stem Cell Research Foundation. Web. 8 May 2012.

AAAS Policy Brief: Stem Cell Research. AAAS. 2004. AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress. Web. 4 May 2012.

"Stem Cell Basics". National Institute of Health. May 2000. Web. 4 May 2012.
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