STEM CELL RESEARCH
STEM CELL RESEARCH, CONTINUED
The first stem cells were removed from spare embryos at fertility clinics in 1998 and a human embryonic stem cell line was set up on a permanent basis. Immediately after the announcement, people and politicians wanted to know from where the embryos would come and how many would have to be destroyed to treat human infirmities.
You can see how many people began to react and to wonder if this would result in human cloning factories and embryo farms to cultivate human spare parts. Many anti-abortionists and evangelical Christians argued that adult stem cells (AS) could be used to provide the same results. There are two (2) main sources of adult stem cells:
Adult stem cells are immature cells found in bone marrow and other organs in adult human beings, as well as umbilical cords normally discarded at birth. In the human body, adult stem cells have been found in: brain, eye retina, dental pulp, intestines, blood, heart, bone marrow, eye cornea, fat, skeletal muscle, blood vessels, and skin. The stem cells from umbilical cords are extremely valuable in research and therapy related to blood cells.
Proponents of using embryonic stem cells counter that adult stem cells, while useful fo some diseases, don't produce the expanded range of cell types possible from embryonic stem cells. They also point out that fertility clinic freezers in many countries are full of unwanted embryos that are scheduled for disposal. They also feel that if parents are willing to donate them, then it would be unethical not to use them for the benefit of humanity.
The potential of embryonic stem cells is not argued by either side. For example, in the United States the biggest killer is heart disease. Embryonic stem cells (ES) have been cultivated to grow into heart muscle cells. In a laboratory dish, they have been observed to form into a mass and beat. When injected into mice and pigs with heart disease they have been found to speed recovery by filling in for injured or dead cells. Similar studies have given promise for diabetes and spinal cord injury.
The big question in many countries is about unethical human experimentation. This is why adult stem cells are so valuable: great potential without the problem of ethics. Another key area being focused on is that of using umbilical cord blood transplants.
Problems related to use of stem cells are numerous and varied. Injecting stem cells into a human patient entails the same problem as other types of transplants: rejection of the foreign cells by the person's immune system. Umbilical cord stem cells (UCS), however, appear to have developmental qualities (called plasticity) equal to that of embryonic stem cells (ES), but do not stimulate transplant disease. This, also, is a great improvement over bone marrow transplants which ultimately are rejected by the immune system.
Dr. James Fallon and his associates at the University of California, Irvine (USA) have shown that it is possible to activate the body's own stem cells to repair damaged tissue; however, this research has only been conducted on animals. Some really good news from the University of Minnesota (USA) is that children with leukemia have been successfully treated using umbilical cord stem cells (UCS).
Many parents are already having umbilical cord blood collected and preserved for use in case a need for stem cell therapy arises for their new born child in the future. In addition, this bank of umbilical cord blood from hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of infants could be a tremendous source to treat many diseases without causing immune rejection. Also, there would be no ethical problem(s) involved with its use.
There is still much danger associated with stem cell therapy due to much uncharted territory involved in the research, and significant progress is probably 10 to 20 years away. The upside, however, is that great strides have recently been made as follows:
Therapeutic cloning, which we discussed in Section 1, and which is one of the two sources of embryonic stem cells (ES), has brought to the center of the debate the issues of "humanness" and the legal status of an embryo: these are areas involving great controversy and discussion involving ethics, morality, and philosophy. For the time being, adult stem cells (AS), including umbilical cord stem cells (UCS), seem to be in the "safe zone" of both political and religious debate.
The Christian, and more particularly the Christian leader, must be knowledgeable in this field to help foster a guided environment of discussion - and ultimately, decision - of the utilization of humane and God given sources of healing for humanity.
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Suggested Reading and Internet Sources:
Handley, Prince. Enhanced Humans: Mystery Matrix. University of Excellence Press. Los Angeles, London, Tel Aviv.
Genetic Science and Learning Center at the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, University of Utah. http://gslc.genetics.utah.edu
Panno, Joseph, Ph.D. "Stem Cell Research." New York, NY: Facts on File, 2005.
The Scientist. "A Stem Cell Legacy: Leroy Stevens."
National Institutes of Health. "Stem Cell Information." http://stemcells.nih.gov/index.asp and "Stem Cells: a Primer." May 2000. http://www.nih.gov.news.stemcell/primer.htm
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NEW IDEAS & SCIENCE
STEM CELL RESEARCH