Use and Regulation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells


Executive Summary


Macalester College



Committee Members:

Mike Cosimini

Jeremy Cover

Tiffany Eagar

Cara Harwood


Manuela Insixiengmay

Pam Romanowsky

Steve Schaub

Miranda Smith

I. Overview of the TechnologyOVERVIEW 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 cellstypes of tissue[iv]. 

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 potentialsTo accomplish this goal, the stem cells must first be isolated.[v]   One method for extracting amplifying the embryonic stem cells is to remove them from the womb embryonic stem cells (visible 5 to 7 days of development) after fertilization 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]

Figure 1-1. Isolation and Development of Human ES Cells


Researchers hope to develop a procedure where with which they would be able to take the developed stem cell, or sometimes a somatic stem cell, and regenerate the damaged tissue.  This process is often called cloning.  fFor example, the new muscle cells, and could be injected it into the damaged muscle to encourage healing.  The result of this procedure would be to regenerate the damaged muscle cells and promote healthy tissue formation. This experiment was has been 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.Researchers hope that this technology will eventually be useful to people suffering from a number of diseases.  One advantage of this procedure would be that if the patient donated the stem cells used to regrow tissue in transplantations, reduced the probabilityies of rejection would occurbe reduced.  During chemotherapy to treat cancer, the healthy cells along with the mutant cells are destroyed.   This Stem cell technology could allows 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.  THIS PARAGRAPH NEEDS TO BE CITED!


II.II. Ethical IssuesETHICAL ISSUES:         

            While 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 These difficulties can be summarized with a few basic benefits and a few basic ethical concerns. From stem cell research we can gain valuable medical incite insight which will lead to an increasedcould increase the quality of human life. We also have an important ethical concern that we are not respectingMany argue, however, that this research does not respect the human life of the embryos from which we get the which give rise to stem cells. 

Research 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 tThere are a few several issues withmoral questions in regards to stem cell research. Generally the problem is that these human embryos are destroyed for the benefits of others. This destruction is may be viewed as immoral because these cells could lead have led to human life. It is also found offensive by many religions.Many religions object to stem cell research on the grounds that it is analagous to murder. These moral issues also vary depending on the source of the embryos.


Existing Stem cells

            It 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, most believe that  there is no further harm in using the cells to do valuable medical research.


Future “leftover” embryos

While the existing stem cells lines’ fates is somewhat of a clear-cut issuehave not provoked a lot of controversy, this is not so withthe same is not true for 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 usingthe fact that researchers have used ES cells or EG cells, discarded from infertilization treatments 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 someand some believe they are already.  We would be destroyingIn this view, stem cell research destroys a living being in the hopes that some unknown good may come out of it.  TAnd 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 whoOthers believe that such development of additional stem cell lines would not be immoral, and could be very beneficial to human life.  Since tThe embryos are going to be discarded anyway, w.  Why not allow them to help improve the quality of life for all of humanity.?  These people believe that Tthe 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 lives. 


Development of embryos for research


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, because we could be.  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, yetwhile 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.  Some fear that tThis could lead to a situation much like nazi Germany with a superior race cloning to eliminate all those that are impuritiese. Other concerns involve the exact opposite worry, that clones would be unhealthy, since existing clones produced have shown exhibited 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 connotationsquestions.  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 unusual source, such as somatic stem cell cloning, the issue take on a more complex dimensionbecomes more complicated.  The significance of cloning should be studied much more before any sort of policy to allow it is adopted.



Application of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Existing Stem Cell Lines

                        Pros                                                                             Cons

* There is helpful medicinal research being                * These 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.


Discarded Stem Cells

                        Pros                                                                             Cons

* 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.


Making Stem Cells for the Purpose of Research

                        Pros                                                                             Cons

* 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.



                        Pros                                                                             Cons

* 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:


A.    EG cell lines from cadavericcadaver 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 aA 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.



IV. At this time, federal funding should not be provided for the derivation and use of ES lines created by somatic cell nuclear transfer. Any privately funded research proposals in this area should be carefully evaluated and closely supervised by the committee.

















Additional works consulted:

            Van Curen, Sarah. Is Embryonic Stem Cell Research Ethical. www.bioethics .net/hsbioethics/webfair/spring2002/Stem_Cell_Research.shtml . downloaded: 4/22/03.