Stem Cells

Stem Cells

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Science is moving at such a rapid speed these days, between cloning, gene
therapy, miracle drugs, exotic therapies, etc. One of the most significant breakthroughs
came in November 1998, when two separate researchers successfully isolated stem
cells from human embryos and aborted fetuses. Stem cells are primordial cells of a
human organism, which are capable of becoming all or most of the 210 different kinds
of tissues in the human body. Stem cells have been defined as not fully differentiated
yet to be any particular type of tissue or cell. They range from “totipotent, i.e. ( the
early stages of the human embryo up to about 4 days after conception.) To pluripotent
I.e. (a bit older and therefore only capable of being some cells or tissues in the
body.) As in the 5-7 day blastocyst stage of the early embryo, with decreasing
capacity in later stages of fetal development and in human beings.
      The impassioned hopes are that these stem cells can be used to great
advantages. The cautious fears are that innocent and vulnerable human beings are
destroyed, and needlessly so, in the process.
The debates are raging. Many people are confused about what stem cell research
really is, and wonder why all the fuss. There are several well documented and well-
articulated sources of information available on this issue already, so the following is a
brief overview of some of the major scientific, ethical, pros and cons.
     For centuries humanity has been plagued with numerous diseases, such as the
black plague, Cancer, AIDS, and other diseases. These horrific, dreaded diseases
have killed millions of people due to doctors or scientists not having a cure, but thanks
to a scientific and medical breakthrough these diseases can and will be a thing of the
past. With this new research scientists are hoping to gain important scientific
knowledge about embryonic development and its application to related fields; curing
debilitating diseases, e.g., Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, stroke, spinal cord
injuries, bone diseases, etc.; and screening drugs for pharmaceutical companies,
instead of having to rely on animal models.
In order to continue with these medical and scientific breakthroughs “ you have to
accept the right-to-life argument in its most extreme form. I’m talking about newly
formed embryos. These are not fetuses with tiny little waving hands and feet. These
are microscopic groupings of a few differentiated cells. There is nothing human about
them, except potential, and only if you choose to believe it, a soul. However, Bush is
blocking, stem cell research would not actually take the life of a single embryo.

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Researchers would only use embryos that are being discarded anyway”.1
     I understand that some people and “pro lifers” say that stem cell research is
“murder.” But I strongly fell that it is ethically acceptable - even morally required - to
destroy a few human beings in order to possibly benefit millions of patients. Besides,
these cells do not cause the same immuno-incompatibility problems after
transplantation as do adult stem cells from different patients. Further, these early cells
from human embryos and fetuses are MORE "totipotent" and "pluripotent" than adult
stem cells, and therefore they can be "coaxed" to become more different kinds of
tissues, and can last longer in culture awaiting use. Besides, these fetuses and left-
over IVF-produced human embryos are going to die anyway, so we might as well get
some good use out of them”.1 “Researchers believe that stem cells can mimic the
actions and activities
of nearly every other cell in the body. Eventually, scientists hope to use
them to repair damaged hearts after heart attacks, regenerate livers
devastated by cirrhosis or viral disease, reconstruct damaged joints, or
seed the brain with fresh neurons to reverse the effects of Parkinson's
and Lou Gehrig's disease, according to the November issue of Technology
Review, a research magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, or MIT.” 2
     Now for every good there is a bad, and with all this technology there has to be a
negative side, after all everything with medication and medical research has it’s side
effects, and thousands of people in the world feel that stem cell research is morally
and ethically wrong regardless of what stem cell research promises, as well as all the
side effects that come along with stem cell research. Here are just some of the side
effects or things that are wrong or “unethical.”
     First, one minor complication is that use of human embryonic stem cells requires
lifelong use of drugs to prevent rejection of the tissue.
Second, another more serious disadvantage is that using embryonic stem cells can
produce tumors from rapid growth when injected into adult patients.
A third disadvantage: the March 8, 2001 New England Journal of Medicine reported
tragic side effects from an experiment involving the insertion of fetal brain cells into the
brains of Parkinson’’s disease patients. Results included uncontrollable movements:
writhing twisting head jerking, arm-flailing and constant chewing. One man can no
longer eat and now requires a feeding tube.
Fourth, a recent report in the Journal Science reported that mice cloned from ESC were
genetically defective. This is particularly relevant. If human ESC are also genetically
unstable, that could materially compromise efforts to transform cells extracted from
embryos into successful medical therapies.
Fifth and finally, the research may be hampered because many of the existing stem cell
lines were grown with the help of mouse cells. These mouse cells were needed to
enhance their growth. If any of this research is to turn into treatments, it will need
approval from the FDA, which requires special safeguards to prevent transmission of
animal diseases to people. It is unclear how many of these cell lines were developed
with the safeguards in place. This of course leads to a whole host of problems related
to transgenic issues.      
     Upon receiving this assignment I was asked to form my own opinion, and I will
admit I did not know much about this subject, but after doing all the research and
finding the Pros and the Cons, and my decision is a difficult one to make.
     I am definitely against human cloning (most cloning in fact) because of the
serious ethical concerns.
For one thing, I don't advocate striking Stem Cell research because we simply don't
know enough about it. We need that research to help answer some questions. If it is
going to create ethical problems or revolutionize medicine then we've got to know one
way or the other, and the only way to do that is by researching more. The federal
government is the key to answering this question by providing funding for research--if
the US doesn't go ahead with it, other nations will.
We do know that stem cells are the cluster of cells formed within days after conception.
After a few days, they go from being blank slates to growing into various organs. Some
of them become skin cells and others the brain and others still the heart, etc. With mice
and Chimps, we have taken their stem cells and injected them into dying organs.
Amazing things have happened: dying hearts have become brand new, brain damage
has been repaired and more. Then in 1998 this same thing was done in humans.
Experts predict that it will be used to cure parkinsons, Alzheimers, brain disease, skin
cancer, huntington's other words it could change everything for the better.
I'm not sure what kind of ethical problems would arise. I mean, the only issue is
whether you are killing an unborn baby; the whole abortion thing, and I don't think that
it applies. These stem cells come from embryos that are either discarded by the
parents already or are grown in the lab specifically to do research on without the
potential for full life. Furthermore, these are blank slate cells, its not like you can grow
organs or humans out of them. What they do in the lab is they inject them into dying
organs and the cells replace the dying ones in that given organ. You cannot grow
organs with stem cells from scratch, John Hopkins tried and failed six months ago. That
would be cloning and this is not cloning.
Given all of the benefits involved and the real unknowns I think the federal government
must fund it. Maybe it will fail, maybe it will be successful, but how can we ever know if
we don't try researching it?

1. Time, 06/25/2001, vol. 157 Issue 25, p80. ( Kinsley, Michael)     
38414,00.html paragraph 6
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