Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Potential Stem Cell Breakthrough

Scientists may have discovered away around the ethical debate surrounding the harvesting of new embryonic stem cells. British and American researches have created cells from umbilical cord blood that appear to have the same properties as embryonic stem cells. (Health Day: Embryonic-Like Stem Cells Found in Umbilical Cord Blood).

While the value of embryonic stem cell research is hotly debated, adult stem cells are already used to treat a variety of diseases including leukemia. Additional information regarding stem cell research may be found at the National Institute of Health's website: Stem Cell Research FAQ.

Embryonic stem cell research poses a major ethical dilemma. Many researches believe embryonic stem cells have the potential to cultivate treatment for many currently incurable diseases. Some scientists believe these cells can be cultivated to replace mature cells that are diseased. While this technology remains unproven, the theory does have a lot of promise and researches are making progress using the existing strains of stem cells.

The controversy arises from the harvesting of embryonic stem cells from aborted fetuses. The more extreme view raises the concern that stem cell research could lead to an increase in abortion, however there is little evidence to support that view. There are already other research techniques already in place that deal with the artificial growth of human tissue. There's nothing to suggest that the use of embryonic stem cells would prompt an increase in abortions, leading me to believe that argument is based more on emotion than hard evidence.

The issue may prove moot if umbilical cord blood is shown to produce embryonic-like stem cells. While that may lead to further ethical questions down the road, at present there do not appear to be any stumbling blocks to continuing this line of research. Given the number of diseases that may not be treatable without a means to correct or manipulate our genetic code, it's not likely this issue will go away. As the age of the average American continues to increase - and with an average lifespan rapidly approaching 80+, there is increasing support for any research that will improve quality of life. Embryonic stem cell research shows promise on that front, hence the dilemma.

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2 comments :

Alan Fraser said...

I have a friend who spends virtually every waking minute typing emails one-handed and sending them to research organizations in an effort to get into a stem cell program as it may help with the paralysis he suffered as a result of a stroke when he was about fifty. When he is not working on an email, he is cursing Bush for his interference in this line of scientific inquiry. Many people dislike Bush but my friend, literally, hates him.

Kannafoot said...

This research may of great interest to your friend: Biotech firm claims brain cell growth breakthrough. It's not clear what the source of the cells is, although based on other research I've read I suspect it's adult stem cells and not embryonic stem cells. In any case, the ability to recreate brain cells, while intended initially to address Parkinson's and Alzheimer's has tremendous potential in reversing the effects of any form of damage to the brain.