Stem Cell Controversy Stem cells were first isolated and cultured in November of 1998 and have been surrounded with much debate and controversy since day one.
“Although the ethical debates have been mostly static and have closely mimicked the ethical debates over abortion, the political determinations concerning federal funding of stem cell research have gone through numerous evolutions in the years since the first hESCs were isolated and cultured” (Saltzberg 505). Research is currently being conducted on stem cells, but only with private funds.The federal government has a ban on funding embryonic stem cell research because of the controversial issue of using embryos and fetuses. However, because of the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat many diseases, conditions, and disabilities, the federal government should fund stem cell research. About 30 years ago scientists learned of ways to extract embryonic stem cells from early mouse embryos.
In a study conducted by Doctor Douglas Kerr, a group of 120 mice were infected with a virus that caused spinal cord damage. When fluid containing human embryonic stem cells was infused into the spinal fluid of the paralyzed rodents, every one of the animals regained at least some movement” (Ruse 72). After many experiments and study of the mouse stem cells, the question of whether embryonic stem cells could provide the same treatments for humans as it did for the mice arises. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are cells that have the ability to develop into a few or many types of specialized cells in the body.There are three types of stem cells ranging from totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent stem cells, which will determine which types of cells a stem cell can develop into.
According to a report on the science of stem cell research issued by the National Institutes of Health in the summer of 2001, “A stem cell is a special kind of cell that has a unique capacity to renew itself and to give rise to specialized cell types” (Snow 3). Stem cells can be extracted from fetal tissue and embryos, which is why there is so much controversy surrounding stem cell research.Embryonic stem cells originate from embryos that have been created by in vitro fertilization. Once the egg has developed, cell division begins. After about nine days a blastocyst forms and this is where stem cells are derived from.
“These early embryonic stem cells give rise to all the tissues in the body, and are therefore considered ‘totipotent’ or capable of generating all things” (Ruse 263). Scientists have conducted many experiments and have found that early embryonic cells preserve the ability to make mature cell types in culture if they are supplied with the correct molecular signals.Scientists are working on discovering how the signals inside and out of the cell work and what triggers each signal. They have found that “the internal signals are controlled by a cell’s genes, which are interspersed across long strands of DNA, and carry coded instructions for all cellular structures and functions. The external signals for cell differentiation include chemicals secreted by other cells, physical contact with neighboring cells” (Info Center). However, it is still not clear as to how well these cells have developed and whether they will work normally when introduced to the true complexities of the human body.
There is still much research needed to be conducted to find out exactly how these stem cells will work in the human body. Since the federal government does not fund research towards stem cells, it is much harder to make scientific advances with embryonic stem cells. However, embryonic stem cells are not the only option when dealing with stem cells. A multipotent stem cell basically does the same function as a pluripotent cell, but it is restricted in what it can develop into. Examples of multipotent stem cells include those in the brain that give rise to different neural cells and glia or hematopoietic cells, which can give rise to different blood cell types, but they can’t create brain cells” (Multipotent Stem Cells). Unlike pluripotent cells, multipotent stem cells are found in adult mammals, and it is believed they are located throughout most of the body’s organs.
Research has found that multipotent stem cells are found in organs and tissues, such as the brain, bone marrow, skeletal muscle, skin, teeth, heart, gum, liver, blood vessels, ovarian epithelium, and testes. In many tissues, current evidence suggests that some types of stem cells are pericytes, cells that compose the outermost layer of small blood vessels. Stem cells may remain quiescent (non-dividing) for long periods of time until they are activated by a normal need to maintain tissues, or by disease or tissue injury” (Info Center). There are many benefits that come along with multipotent stem cells.
“Since multipotent stem cells are derived from pluripotent stem cells, these stem cells have already partially differentiated and they continue specializing as they develop” (Multipotent Stem Cells).These cells can also be extracted from a person’s tissues and cultivated into the cell they are attempting to make which will then be placed back into the same person. Through this treatment, the issue of using embryos or fetuses is avoided. Also, multipotent cells can be extracted from the same patient suffering from a disease. Therefore, “if the cells for transplanting were derived from the insertion of a patient’s somatic cell nucleus into an egg or possibly a pluripotent stem cell, the resulting clonal cell line would be expected to have no tissue incompatibility with the donor of the cell nucleus” (Ruse 218).
There would be no chance for tissue rejection and no drugs would be needed to correct any problems regarding rejection. In preliminary tests conducted by Geron, a pharmaceutical company, stem cells slip by the human immune system unharmed. However, scientists have been unable to find multipotent stem cells in all tissues in the body. Therefore, the only way to obtain certain cells would be to use pluripotent stem cells, which are found in embryos and fetal tissue. This is where much controversy comes into play with stem cells.
Much research is needed and this will only happen if federal funds are used to conduct research on stem cells.In August of 2001, President Bush made a speech regarding stem cell research. In this speech he said, “Based on preliminary work that has been privately funded, scientists believe further research using stem cells offers great promise that could help improve the lives of those who suffer from many terrible diseases” (Ruse 10). In the end, Bush said he would allow for federal funds to be used on stem cell research, but there was a catch. As a result of private research, more than sixty genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist.
They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research. I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life and death decision has already been made. (Ruse 13) Although Bush allowed the federal government to fund research being done on the 78 existing stem cell lines, there are limitations on the information that can be gathered from these existing stem cells.While the funding for embryonic research was limited, there were no limitations set on multipotent cells which are derived from adult stem cells. However, it is still very unsure if these multipotent cells will be able to provide the same ability that pluripotent stem cells offer.
“The future of stem cell biology, if it is to reach its full potential, will require the study of adult stem cells along with the more conventional approaches using embryonic stem cells” (Ruse 61). The U. S. may limit federal funds for the use on embryonic stem cell research, but it did not make private research illegal.Without the federal government funding the research, it has no way of regulating it.
According to Jordan Saltzberg, “Federal support and regulation of hESC research would provide effective monitoring mechanisms to ensure protection against potential abuses of stem cell research” (Saltzberg 13). With the limitations set on stem cells derived from embryos, the United States is affecting national and international research. American scientists are restricted to using out dated and perhaps contaminated stem cell lines, while many other countries are advancing in their research.In an article written by Jonathan Moreno and Sam Burger, they state, “Science is a collaborative process; research discoveries by one group of scientists often provide the basis for advances in laboratories around the world. The U.
S. is by far the largest funder of stem cell research, spending three times as much as any other country . . . ” (Moreno).
The United States consists of some of the most state of the art laboratories and equipment in the world, but without federal funding for embryonic stem cell research it is going to waste.Scientists in the United States are unable to compete with other countries over this research because of the federal ban of funds for stem cell research. Other countries like the U. K.
, Singapore, Sweden, Russia, and others around the world have significant steps towards supporting stem cell research. In fact, Singapore has invested in a $300 million biomedical research facility and says it will spend $7. 5 billion on biomedical research in the upcoming years. Britain has also invested in a biotechnology company which studies human embryonic stem cells treatments for stroke victims.
In an article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), it states, “Federal funding for stem cell research is necessary in order to promote investment in this promising line of research, to encourage sound public policy, and to foster public confidence in the conduct of such research” (Chapman 6). American scientists have even left for Britain because government funding for stem cell research is available. Britain has approved stem cell research on the grounds that it could help cure intractable diseases.In 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order that changed the limitations of embryonic stem cells that could receive funds from the federal government.
“However, it is only the first step towards allowing federal funding for American scientists to do the types of embryo research that are allowed in some other countries” (Skene 211). In an article written by the Public Broadcasting Service, it states, “The medical potential of stem cells lies in their ability to develop into almost any tissue of an organism, and they are at their greatest capacity for development when they are taken from embryos” (Frontline).Stem cells have the potential to work medical miracles and provide cures for diseases or injuries that never seemed possible. Some of these diseases include Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s, vision disorders, and motor neuron disorders. In an article by Marcia Clemmitt, Alan Leshner, CEO of the AAAS, states, “The ultimate treatment is to put somebody back to normal . .
. in any disease or injury where tissue is being depleted, or has been damaged or removed, you would like to put a bridge there and make it grow back.Embryonic stem cells may work as such bridges” (Clemmitt 700). The totipotent and pluripotent cells that are contained in embryos are becoming increasingly valuable. In Chicago, 17 of 21 patients who were suffering from the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis showed “significant improvements in their condition” after receiving an injection of stem cells from their individual bone marrow (Skene 223). More and more people suffer from the diseases above and many other diseases, but without government funds for stem cell research, it will remain unknown if stem cells are the answer.
Stem cells would not only be used for curing diseases. Scientists would be able to create a disease outside of the human body and study how it works, and what can be done to stop it. In the article written by Loane Skene, it states: . .
. Scientists will be able to take skin cells from patients with a condition like motor neuron disease, turn them into stem cells in a test tube, and then stimulate those cells to produce nerve cells. They will then have nerve cells with the characteristics of motor neuron disease to study the development of the disease and to test new drugs. Skene 213) With the information that can be learned from stem cells, we can learn how a normal cell develops and maybe correct errors that might occur. Although stem cells contain the potential to be the answers to many problems, ethics come into play when dealing with embryos and fetal tissue.
The arguments surrounding stem cell research are basically the same as those surrounding abortion. Many people believe that life begins as soon as fertilization occurs; however, others believe an embryo in the early stages is not considered human life. The plan to sacrifice embryos for a revolutionary new kind of research has reawakened a long-dormant academic debate about the morality of destroying developing human life” (Ruse 151). Many, who believe that embryonic stem cell research is unethical, claim that all humans have a right to life. However, this constitutional right is vague and does not offer many positive rights. Americans cannot ask the federal government to protect them from disease, disasters, or acts of nature.
Therefore, “If a frozen human embryo is a full human person, it still has no right to life per se, but rather a negative right against unwarranted violence and a weak positive right to a set of basic social services” (Ruse 153). Also, opponents of stem cell research should not overlook the fact that many embryos are destroyed yearly by fertility clinics because there is no longer a need for them. If the destruction of embryos is already occurring, the donation of embryos to further scientific research on embryonic stem cells should be allowed.Embryonic stem cells are so immense in their complexity, that the research being conducted now is simply not enough to obtain the information contained in stem cells. There are an estimated 128 million Americans who suffer from diseases or ailments that could be helped by embryonic stem cell treatments. “Even if that is an optimistic number, many clinical researchers and cell biologists hold that stem cell therapies will be critical in treating cancer, heart disease, and degenerative diseases of aging” (Ruse 154).
The potential contained in stem cells is immense and this possible medical cure must be pursued.Research and experiments are the only way to discover the true anatomy and function of embryonic stem cells. With funds from the federal government, this research could be done to unleash a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues. Works Cited Chapman, Audrey R.
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