Stem Cell Research Unleashed
Early in March, federal funding was approved for research on embryonic stem cells in President Barack Obama’s Executive Order. This order repealed the previous restrictions ordered by former President Bush. Scientists are thrilled, because they believe embryonic stem cells hold the cure for disabling untreatable conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries.
Since 2001, federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research was restricted by former president Bush’s executive order and limited to only the existing 60 cell lines. Under Obama’s order, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has been instructed to develop strict ethical and legal guidelines that include stringent oversight of all human stem cell research, including embryonic. The NIH has a 120-day deadline for delivering the guidelines.
The controversy on embryonic stem cell research
Embryonic stem cells offer society the biggest promise because they can morph into any cell of the body and replace tissues for any part of the body. However to understand the potential ethical, legal and societal concerns you need some basic information.
In order to create an embryo, the doctor has to fertilize the female egg with the male sperm. This procedure is performed outside the body, in “in vitro fertilization” (IVF) clinics around the world with couples that have difficulty getting pregnant. After the embryo is four to five days old, the stem cells are extracted and the embryo is destroyed.
The root of the controversy revolves around the age old question, “when does life begin?” A number of groups believe the embryo is a human being and oppose this research because the human embryos are destroyed.
NIH researchers will use discarded human embryos that have been donated by couples and created for the purpose of in vitro fertilization. Federal law still prohibits the use of government dollars to destroy human embryos created solely for the purpose of scientific research and stringent restrictions covering human embryo creation should be included in the new NIH guidelines.
The root of the controversy revolves around the age old question, “when does life begin?” since the embryos created are then destroyed for medical research.
The power of stem cells unleashed
Just like not all golfers can be a Tiger Woods, not all stem cells have infinite potential. Stem cells fall into two categories: unlimited (embryonic) stem cells and limited (adult) stem cells. The unlimited embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into any tissue or cell, from skin to liver to nerve. They can also be replicated in a
laboratory, giving them the potential to treat more patients.
The limited adult stem cells cannot grow outside the body and whose main function is the repair and maintenance of the tissue where they are found. For example the umbilical cord and placenta are fully developed organs and contain one or two types of adult stem cells.
Research on adult stem cells has resulted in some success, including bone marrow transplants for cancer patients. According to the Family Research Council, researchers using adult stem cells have regenerated heart tissue for patients with a variety of heart conditions; seen significant improvement in Multiple Sclerosis patients allowing some to regain their mobility, and performed eye stem cell implants, repairing the cornea after disease or chemical accidents thus restoring the patients’ vision.
This past January, a biotech company was given approval by the Food and Drug Administration to start human clinical trials on patients with spinal cord injuries, using federally approved embryonic stem cell lines. The approval of the human clinical trial is the first of its kind in the world.
Today there is new hope for all those struggling with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and paralysis. The removal of restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research and the ability to access donated IVF embryos, eliminates any barriers and puts the United States on a level playing field with the rest of the scientific world. The U.S. can now compete for the top scientific minds and hopefully reclaim our reputation as a top medical research powerhouse.
For more information on Stem Cell Research, visit: www.stemcellresearchfacts.com
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Written and researched by OUTLOUD