Different Sides of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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The field of stem cell research remains highly controversial because of its ethical and moral values. “Despite the news in 2006 that researchers had found a way to harvest human embryonic stem cells without having to destroy embryos, controversy still surrounds potentially life-saving stem cell research.” (Gruen, 2007). Due to the strong emotional responses to some of the subject matter by the pro-lifers and certain religions and politics in general, I will attempt to explain different sides of embryonic stem cell research (ESC). This study describes what viable embryos are and the issues connected with them. Are stem cells viable embryos? Can they ever be a human being? Stem cells are no more than a precursor for some type of cell. They are not tiny embryos nor can they ever become embryos. Are human embryonic stem cells embryos? Although stem cells of themselves are not embryos, they are pluripotent; they can develop into any cell or tissue of the body. They are not capable of forming a new individual, as a fertilized egg or single cell taken from a four-cell embryo might if cultured in vitro and placed in a uterus. Stem cell research has become a subject of political discussion in recent years because of its social and ethical implications, but what is the big controversy with stem cell research? Most diseases are caused by the death of healthy cells in a particular organ. Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of brain cells that produce a chemical call dopamine and diabetes is caused by the death of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. None of these organs can replace the cells that die. With stem cell therapy, these cells can be replaced. Researchers and scientists study stem cells to get a basic understanding of the process in cell development and disease. “The opposition of research on human embryos usually start and finish their argument with the claim that the human embryo is, from the moment of conception,a living, innocent human being. But the morality of using a being for research should depend on what the being is like, not on the species to which it belongs.” (Singer, 2001) This being of 64 cells has no brain and has never been conscious and can feel no pain. Take for instance researchers who do research on rats, the rats are not capable of preferring not to be in situations that are painful and frightening to them.

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There are two types of stem cells that are found in humans and animals: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into any organ or type of tissue in the body. This property is called pluripotency. According to the MSN Encarta, “Embryonic stem cells exist in fully developing embryos for a limited period of time (about three weeks). However, embryonic stem cells produced in laboratory conditions continue to divide and can be sustained almost indefinitely in nutrient cultures.” (MSN Encarta, 2000) Since these stem cells can divide and copy themselves indefinitely, it is not necessary for researchers to take continually stem cells from human embryos because they can maintain a stock of them. They call this stock a cell line, which is similar to our family lineage. Below is a picture of pluripotent stem cells. {draw:frame} (www.csa.com/discoveryguides/stemcell/overview.php) Researchers and scientists use two major venues in researching diseases in regenerative medicine: differentiating stem cells into certain types of replacement tissues and using the stem cells to observe how diseases develop in them, which also leads to the development of effective drug treatments (Mitchell, 2008). During those eight years, I believe many Americans have changed their minds about stem cell research because they do not want to see their family or friends, or even themselves, suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or any other disease that has a chance of being reversed or cured. When President Ronald Reagan died from Alzheimer’s disease, Nancy Reagan then hoped that one day there may be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Again with the death of the actor Christopher Reeve’s, who was paralyzed by spinal cord injuries and was a vocal campaigner for stem cell research, the hope for stem cell therapy was highlighted. With a new President in the House, these issues may be changed because President Obama has long favored stem cell research. In 2007, he said, “I am frustrated…that we are preventing the advancement of important science that could potentially impact millions of suffering Americans…” Furthermore, this brings up the controversial issue whether it is morally right or not. Some people might argue that this is not morally right. The Catholic Church believes that nothing should be done to an unborn fetus. “There seems to be no middle ground for the Catholic Church when it comes to the sanctity of life for the unborn.” (Ruse & Pynes, 2006). So just how much influence should religion have on any aspect of what the government does with respect to stem cell research? Are human embryonic stem cells embryos? Should religion have reign over whether someone is willing to give up her aborted fetus for science or should it be the right of the person? The Fourteenth Amendment gives us the right of privacy and the right for a mother to abort a fetus. Because of the pro-lifers beliefs, should adult stem cells be used instead of embryonic stem cells? Are they more beneficial than embryonic stem cells? Adult stems cells greatest advantage is that it can usually use a person’s own stem cells. Adult stem cells disadvantages are that these cells cannot multiply indefinitely. Adult stem cells in animals have been proven to be extremely impressive. Adult stem cells given to a person with Parkinson’s had results that were very similar to embryonic stem cells, where a patient had almost a full recovery for several years after the transplant. Embryonic stems cells have advantages too. They have exceptional promise for the finding of cures for many diseases. They have the potential to form every cell type and have rapid proliferation. Embryonic stems cells have a lack of rejection and an extremely important usefulness in drug testing and disease models. These embryonic stem cells make up a larger proportion of a developing embryo than do adult stem cells. {draw:frame} Accordingly, with stem cell research funded by private companies or the government, research should not be stopped. The benefits of stem cell research outweigh the cost in terms of embryonic life because this means that they have the capacity to be used for cellular therapies to treat a wide range of diseases. The embryonic stem cells potential to treat diseases is much greater than the costs associated with the destruction of embryos. “As controversy, objections, doubt, and debate still surround stem cell treatment in the United States , many U.S. patients have opted to make the trip to China where stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and ataxia are being practiced in more than 100 Chinese hospitals.” (2007) Adult stem cells cannot reproduce themselves indefinitely. They do not divide fast enough to offer immediate treatment. If there is DNA abnormalities in the adult stem cells that will make them unusable for treatment. Nevertheless, the value of life is a fine line where the embryo becomes a human being. Embryos first heart beat is not usually until their fifth week in the womb. Embryonic stem cells are only used up until the third week of a pregnancy and brain activity does not begin developing until the 54th day after conception. The embryo does not attach to the uterus until 14 days after fertilization. These embryos are a cluster of cells or blastocysts for the first three weeks after conception. They have no differentiation into any distinct organ tissue and the viability of a fetus living outside the mother’s womb has been set at 22 weeks due to artificial aid. There was a recent article on January 23, 2009 from the Geron Corporation press release that Geron Corporation has been given FDA clearance to begin the world’s first human clinical trial of embryonic stem cell-based therapy. This trial will be used on patients with “complete” American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) grade A subacute thoracic spinal cord injuries. To be able to help people who are quadriplegics by injecting stem cells into their body to cure them, would be the greatest gift of all. There is no telling how far stem cell research can go. Every day there is something new on this subject, what will be next?

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Mitchell, H. (2008). The growth of stem cell research. The Cornellian, January, 2008. Retrieved February 4, 2009, from www.thecornellian.com. Patients seeking stem cell research overseas. Physician’s Money Digest (July 2007): 18(1) Academic One File. Gale. Apollo Library. 4 Feb. 2009. Reprogramming the debate: Stem-cell finding alters ethical controversy. (2007). Space Daily (Nov 21, 2007): NA. General One File. Gale. Apopllo Library. 4 Feb. 2009. Gale document number: A171618409. Ruse, M. & Pynes, C.A. (2003). The stem cell controversy: Debating the issues_._ Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. Schull, D. (2009, January 23). Geron receives FDA clearance to begin world’s first human clinical trial of embryonic stem cell-based therapy. Retrieved from http://www.geron.com/media/pressview. Singer, P. (2001). Using human embryos is morally acceptable. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. Retrieved February 4, 2009, from Axia College, Apollo Library, Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. The Stem Cell Controversy. (2006). Debating the issues. New York: Prometheus Books. Viegas, J. (2003). Stem cell research. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. Roe vs. Wade. (2009) Retrieved March 6, 2009, from http://www.thepetitioncite.com Peer Review Checklist*

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