I was interested in hearing what my fellow students ‘know’ about stem cell research, so I decided to informally and randomly ask around. I was, to say the least, shocked. About a third of the students that I spoke with firmly believed that stem cell research was banned in the United States. I understand that most students are too busy to watch the news or read newspapers, but I sort of figured that students would at least know UC Irvine is currently conducting stem cell research. After all, it was only recently that Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson decided to donate to UCI’s stem cell research program.
For the record, there is no ban against stem cell research in the United States. In fact, scientists are not only funded privately and locally, but are also federally funded. Under the current policy of President George W. Bush, federal agencies can spend any amount on stem cell research. Moreover, provided that scientists use stem cells from 22 eligible lines, including specific cases in which embryos are harvested in a particular method, scientists can go ahead with conducting their research.
Medical researchers have suggested that there are several benefits to embryonic stem cell research, including implanting stem cells them into a sick person, and, with the proper techniques applied, producing healthy cells of the proper type to replace dead or damaged cells in a patient.
At present, this is all still in the research stage. While a few sick individuals have shown some improvement after being treated with stem cell techniques, the results do not appear to be statistically significant. Studies have shown that there is little significant difference between patients who get better without stem cell treatment and those who receive stem cell treatments. There are no guarantees with this kind of research because it is so new. While many hopeful patients, such as Michael J. Fox, suggest that embryonic stem cell research offers hope, there are quite a few pitfalls in this research.
Stem cells can often fuel tumor growth and cannot cure as many diseases as scientists may think. It is also important to point out that we are probably a decade or two away from more conclusive research. Perhaps the most obvious criticism of stem cell research, however, is the way by which stem cells are obtained. To say the least, it’s dastardly. Embryonic stem cells come from live embryos which are destroyed when stem cells are harvested.
Creating embryos for the purpose of destroying them is a disgusting practices. Of course this depends on whether you think that an embryo is a human being at an early stage of development, which is to be respected, or just a bag of cells that is fine to obliterate for the sake of research that can probably be done with other stem cells.
I am, for the most part, against embryonic stem cell research. But I am not against stem cell research.
Stem cells can be harvested from umbilical cords, bone marrow, organs and fat tissue in general.
This month, scientists also reported that stem cells can also be found in discarded amniotic fluid and that these cells may hold the key to new treatments for disease and injury. The newly discovered amniotic fluid stem cells may not be capable of forming every type of adult tissue.
However, when grown in the right environment, they can become fat cells, bone cells, brain cells, muscle cells, blood vessel cells or liver cells. According to preliminary research, amniotic stem cells yield virtually the same results as embryonic stem cells.
If it were up to me, I would ban scientists from creating embryos strictly for research. There need to be some moral boundaries in research. If stem cells can be harvested from amniotic fluid and fat tissue, why not bypass the controversy of using embryos? It worries me that people will think twice before eating meat, but feel perfectly fine when it comes to obliterating embryos.
Reut R. Cohen is a third-year English major. She can be reached at email@example.com.