Essay about Stem Cells: Biology

Submitted By chuckwalla19
Words: 930
Pages: 4

Charlie Zoller
3/5/2013
Assignment 1
Cultural Biology

The existence of the stem cell was proven in 1961. Since the discovery stem cell research, useful applications remain a large focus in the biomedical world. Doctors have been performing bone marrow stem cell transplants for decades. But when scientists learned how to remove stem cells from human embryos in 1998, both excitement and controversy ensued. (NIH) The excitement is due to the huge potential these cells have for curing human disease, such as diabetes, and heart disease. Unlike gene therapy, or other cells, the stem cell has the capability of self- renewal and reprogramming, known as differentiating (Collins p204). That is to say they can be induced to become tissues or organ specific cells and repair damaged tissues. Most stem cell research is done using adult and embryonic stem cells (NIH). Adult stem cells have a limited capacity to differentiate and are referred to as “multipotent” However embryonic stem cells can regenerate indefinitely, and into all tissues of the human body. These cells are referred to as “pluripotent.”(Collins p205) It is this characteristic that makes the embryonic stem cell a more desirable avenue of research with the largest possibility for therapeutic solutions. These pluripotent stem cells are isolated from the human embryo thereby destroying the embryo and its potential for life. The controversy centers on the moral implications of destroying these human embryos. Historically, the embryos used in these studies were created for reproductive purposes through in vitro fertilization procedures. (Often there are excess fertilized eggs that result from the in vitro process, which are frozen and donated for research with the informed consent of the donor.) It is likely that otherwise these embryo would be discarded (Collins, p206) some feel this is an abortion. However is it more ethical to discard them this way or through research? Stem cell research has given rise to many questions like this, both in the courts and Congress: Does life begin at fertilization? Does a human embryo have rights? Is the destruction of the embryo justified if it provides a cure or eliminates suffering? Is there the possibility that embryos might be created or donated strictly for medicinal purposes? Morality is grounded in ones personal belief, so there can’t be a definitive right or wrong answer to these questions. Thus, political leaders have been debating for years over how to regulate and fund research involving human embryos so as to balance morality and scientific advances. The 1996 Dickey-Wicker amendment, forbids the use of federal funds in research that destroys embryos. Although private funding has been available, the large federal dollars have been restricted because of the ethical issues, and has somewhat hampered the forward progress of research (NIH). We have seen research change course with administrations. For instance, George W. Bush decided that only research on embryos derived before August 9, 2001 could be used to create stem cell lines. Subsequently, President Barack Obama issued an executive order reversing this and encouraging the National Institutes of Health to pay for embryonic stem-cell research, so long as federal money wasn’t used to directly make the stem cells. (NIH) New breakthroughs are providing hope and may soon make this debate less relevant. Scientists have learned how to stimulate a patient's own adult cells to behave like embryonic stem cells. These so-called induced pluripotent stem cells are reducing the need for human embryos in research (NIF). Both human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells are pluripotent: they can become any type of cell in the body. But ethical questions regarding stem cells research may not entirely go away. An additional ethical consideration is that…