Overview of the Technology
What is a stem cell? According to the Nation Institute of Health stem cells “are capable of dividing and renewing themselves for long periods; they are unspecialized; and they can give rise to specialized cell types.”[i] All humans and animals contain cells each ranging in function from epithelial cells to neurons. Despite this diversity, all cells originate from a single embryonic stem (ES) cell called a zygote. This zygote is totipotent, meaning it has the potential to become any type of cell[ii]. Another type of stem cell is the adult (somatic) stem cells, which differ from embryonic stem cells because they are usually bipotent or unipotent, meaning their function is limited to one or two tissue formations. Their purpose is to repair the tissue, via giving rise to new cells.
The discovery that all life stems
from on e original cell was a significant step in biomedical research. The first isolated stem cells came from
mice in the 1970s[iii]. Building on this discovery, in 1998
James Thomson from University of Wisconsin isolated and grew human embryonic
stem cells. John Gearhart from
Johns Hopkins University accomplished the same for germ cells. These advancements allowed other
scientists to study stem cells.
Within two years of research, scientists discovered that under certain
conditions, stem cell development could be directed towards specific
Biomedical sciences have since
launched an attempt to
specifically direct stem cell growth
and apply the product to prominent diseases. Once they have isolated the stem cell, scientists
can begin to study their potentials[v] One method for extracting the embryonic
stem cell is to remove
stem cells (visible 5 to 7 days of development)
and grow them on Petri dishes where they would continue to divide. Using specific nutrients and
controlling other variables, scientists would try to differentiate the stem
cells into one of many tissues found in the body e.g., nerve cells, muscle
cells, and pancreatic islet cells.
(See Figure 1-1.)[vi]
Researchers hope to develop a
where they would be able to take the
developed stem cell for example, the muscle cell, and inject it into the muscle. The result of this procedure
would be to regenerate the damaged muscle cells and promote
healthy tissue formation . This
experiment was performed on mice and found to be
highly successful. (See Figure 1-2.)[vii]
Figure 1-2. Injection of Stem Cells into Mice
Possible applications for the
technology include: transplantation of organs, cancer therapy, diseases of the
nervous system, and more. One
advantage of this procedure would be in transplant ations, reduced probabilit ies of rejection
would occur. During chemotherapy to treat cancer,
the healthy cells along with the mutant cells are destroyed. This technology allow s
healthy cells to be reintroduced into the body to regenerate healthy
tissue. Treating diseases of the
nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease, it would be possible to have
cells with the dopamine-producing nerve cells injected back into the brain.
While all these applications for the technology have been theorized, scientists
still need to research all the implications of the science and the possible
uses. Extended experimentations
and research are still needed to verify whether this technology would be
beneficial for humans. Although
many similar experiments have been conducted on laboratory animals, the medical
field is unsure of how these methods would affect humans. Without the possibility of
experimenting on humans, the full implications are still unknown.
Ethical Issues :
the benefits and risks of stem cell research in terms of the people who donate
the eggs and the people who benefit from the research are very clear cut the ethical issues
are much more difficult.
Eventually we come down to a
few basic benefits and a few basic ethical concerns. From stem cell research we
can gain valuable medical incite which will lead to an increased
quality of human life. We also have an important ethical concern that we
are not respecting the human life of the embryos from which we get the stem
with stem cells has not been proven to but is may lead to cures or therapy for
many injuries or diseases. Any injury or disease were cells are destroyed stem
cells could be helpful in replacing these lost cells. In some cases like white
blood cells adult stem cells could be used to do this but in many other cases
research in embryo stem cell research may be needed. It is believed that this
research could lead to cures or therapy for spinal injuries, heart disease,
Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, leukemia and possibly many more
as research continues. All these cures will if realized improve the quality of
human life. Morally there are a few issues with
stem cell research. Generally the problem is that these human embryos are
destroyed for the benefits of others. This destruction is viewed as
immoral because these cells could lead to human life. It is also found offensive by
many religions. These moral issues also vary
depending on the source of the embryos.
Existing Stem cells
is believed that there are
anywhere from 6-12 usable stem cell
lines that can be used for stem cell research. Research of these cells could
lead to important medical advances in the above listed diseases and potentially
be used in the future to treat them. However as with any stem cell research
there are concerns over the ethics of its use. The main concern is that it is
immoral to have destroyed these cells for research purposes so there continued
use is immoral. However, because the embryos have already been destroyed
While the existing stem
lines’ fates is somewhat of a clear-cut issue, this is not so with
future “leftover” embryos.
Current governmental policy does not allow funding for the creation of
more stem cell lines. The
administration believes that just because the practice of using discarded ES cells or
EG cells has existed in the past, that alone does
not justify future use. In
addition, the view has been expressed that the use of these
“leftover” embryos degrades the value of human life. The embryos could possibly still become
human beings, or in the view of some
are already. We would be destroying a living being in the hopes that some unknown good may
come out of it. And the fact that
this living being was going to be discarded still does not give us the right to
exploit the embryo and kill it for its natural resources. On the other side of the
issue are those who believe that such development of
additional stem cell lines would not be immoral, and could be very beneficial
to human life. The
embryos are going to be discarded anyway . Why not allow them to help improve the quality
of life for all of humanity .
The possible benefits of research and
technology of ES could be very great, and this view is that limiting
the amount of research material limits our ability to improve and save
Another level of stem
cell use has sparked even more heated debate. This involves the production of embryos purely for
scientific research. The ethical
problem that many people have with this idea is that it devalues human life. If we create human beings only to
destroy them for research, we may have crossed a significant moral line
. It is creating life only
to destroy it for our own benefit.
To counter this argument, supporters of such a plan point to the good
that could be obtained. More ES
cell lines could be obtained to provide a greater variety of subjects for
research. This variety of lines
could be the key to discovering the potential of stem cells. In addition, if cures or aids for
certain diseases were discovered, such practice would allow us to produce
lifesaving medicines or technology more quickly. With a greater amount of stem cells available, more could be
done to discover the possible benefits of the technology. This, of course, is an issue that is
very crucial and must be addressed in any policy concerning stem cell research.
Recent debates surrounding cloning
(somatic cell transfer) have centered around the ethical applications of such a
procedure. Embryonic stem cell
research has been questioned for stopping the ability to produce life,
while cloning is
the opposite end of this spectrum.
Producing life, or even just human parts, from a few cells within a
living body could lead to human cloning.
could lead to a situation much like nazi Germany with a superior race cloning
to eliminate all those
that are impur e. Other concerns
involve the exact opposite, since clones produced have shown problems such
as obesity and premature ageing.
Being able to produce human parts that match exactly with the existing
body could provide benefits, as malfunctioning organs could be replicated and
replaced, but at what cost? A
situation may arise in which human hearts and human lungs are grown in jars,
mass-produced, and sold to consumers.
Certainly, the ethical dilemma of
artificially creating human life brings up religious
connotations. Even those who do not believe in God
admit that there is some sanctity in preserving natural life. Cloning human parts resembles this on a
somewhat smaller scale. This
debate points out that it may be morally wrong to produce humans for spare
parts, as the value of human life is degraded when artificial production is
implemented. The ethical
importance of where life begins can be debated with embryonic stem cell
research prior to birth, but when life is created from an original source the issue take on a more complex dimension. The significance of cloning should be
studied much more before any sort of policy to allow it is adopted.
* There is helpful medicinal research being
stem cells are harvested in a
performed that improves the quality of life. * Just because an embryo has already
* These lines are already in existence, no been killed does not make its use
additional harm will be done. morally right.
* The embryos are going to die anyway, * The fact that the ‘living’ being
researchers might as well use them for some is going to die does not give us the
beneficial purpose. right to exploit it.
* This will allow for more stem cell lines * The paradox of creating life to
to be researched, and a more diverse selection. destroy it.
* Should a cure be discovered, it could be
produced more quickly.
* Human body parts can be produced * The question of morality in regards
that fit with the body as well as original to creating humans for spare parts.
* Reproduce lost loved ones? *
Mutations that may arise
I. Permit the use of already derived embryonic stem (ES) cell lines from discarded embryos.
Federal funding should be available for approved research using existing cell lines. Currently, federal funding is available only for this type of research using ES cell lines derived from discarded embryos created for the purpose of reproduction.
II. Permit the derivation of new embryonic stem cell and germ cell (EG) lines for use in approved research from only two sources:
cell lines from
cadaveric fetal tissue: Federal funding should
be available for derivation of new stem cell lines provided by aborted or
miscarried embryos. Written
consent must be attained from the mother or couple and it must be made clear
that the clinic cannot specify specific cell use or guarantee treatment of any
particular individual. The mother
or couple should be informed of basic information regarding general research
and protocol to be used with their cells if available. Fetal tissue may not be bought or sold
and the individual donating fetal tissue must be made aware that there will be
no financial compensation for their cell donation. It should also be made clear that consent or refusal of
donation will not affect future health care or the patients relationship with
the clinic. At any time a representative from the clinic should be
available to answer any questions the mother or couple may have.
B. ES cell lines from embryos remaining after infertility treatments: Federal funding should be available for derivation of new stem cell lines from embryos remaining after in vitro fertilization for the purpose of reproduction. Options for use of unwanted embryos should be outlined to the mother or couple: freezing for future use, donation to another mother or couple, or disposal by the clinic. If and only if the couple decides to discard the unused embryos, they should be presented with the option of donating the embryos for stem cell research purposes. Written consent must be attained from the mother or couple and it must be made clear that the clinic cannot specify specific cell use or guarantee treatment of any particular individual. The mother or couple should be informed of basic information regarding general research and protocol to be used with their cells if available. Discarded embryos may not be bought or sold and the individual donating discarded embryos must be made aware that there will be no financial compensation for their donation. It should also be made clear that consent or refusal of donation will not affect future health care or the patients relationship with the clinic. The mother or couple should be aware that research with the embryos will result in their destruction and not implantation into another woman’s uterus. At any time a representative from the clinic should be available to answer any questions the mother or couple may have.
III. A committee should be established to oversee and approve all research involving ES and EG cell lines funded both federally and by private research institutions. The committee will be made up of diverse panel of U.S. citizens, including research professionals, bioethical experts, and members of the general public. Frequent meetings will be required of the committee members, who will retain membership for a period of no more than five years. Duties of the committee will include:
A. Review and approval of all federally and privately funded research proposals involving EG or ES cells. The committee should be in charge of maintaining a publicly accessibly database including following information:
a. Submitted proposals and approval status
b. Protocols used in the derivation or usage of ES or EG cells
c. A history tracking the source and usage of approved cell lines.
B. The committee should be responsible for providing guidelines for social and
ethical issues that should be considered in the review of proposals for research that involve the use of ES or EG cells.
C. The committee will be responsible for evaluation of ES and EG cell legislation, and will be required to submit suggestions for legislative changes at least once a year.
D. After a five year period, the committee will assume responsibility for determining the necessity for creating new cell lines derived from embryos created solely for research purposes. Permission to derive cell lines in this way will be granted after an in depth evaluation and analysis of the circumstances, and will require the consent of at least two thirds of the committee members.