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Stem Cell Research

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Stem Cell Research a brief overview...

What are stem cells?

Stems cells are regarded as the 'building blocks' or 'master cells' of the blood and immune system. They are progenitor cells that can differentiate into other types of cells. Stem cells are cells that are capable of growing into any of the 300 different kinds of cell in the human body.

Where do they come from?

They can be taken from embryos a few days old, and researchers extract them from human embryos that have been discarded during fertility treatments. Stem cells can also be found in adults and children.

For example, we all have blood stem cells, which are found in the bone marrow and continuously replenish the body's red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. But embryonic stem cells are more flexible to work with. Scientists believe they are essential to research into how to coax stem cells to grow in certain types of cells needed.

What are stem cells used for?

Scientists want to make use of stem cells' ability to grow into any kind of cell by growing them in the laboratory and using them in tissue transplants and to help to treat disease such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.

Where does cloning come into all this?

Therapeutic cloning, the creation of human embryos solely for the production of stem cells, rather than with the intention of creating a new human being, could be used to clone a patient's DNA, harvest stem cells, and grow them into the type of tissue needed.

Scientists hope that this would eliminate the problems of tissue rejection caused when someone else's tissue is used in a transplant. Cloning embryos for their stem cells would also provide a steady supply of cells for research.

What has George Bush decided?

He has decided to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, permitting American scientists to carry out experiments on about 60 stem cell cultures already in research facilities using government money. However they cannot use government money to extract stem cells from new embryos, an operation which would kill the embryo. But private money can still be used for this kind of research.

What about other countries?

Several countries are considering legislation on stem cell research. For example, the Japanese government has said it is likely to approve research on clone embryos and embryonic stem cells within a year, while The British parliament has voted in favour of allowing stem cell research using early human embryos in December last year.

Who objects to stem cell research, and why?

Anti-abortion and ethics groups oppose such research because it results in human embryos being destroyed. The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics argues the case like this: "The destruction of human embryonic life is unnecessary for medical progress, as alternative methods of obtaining human stem cells and of repairing and regenerating human tissue exist and continue to be developed."

There is also a strong religious lobby opposing embryonic stem cell research. When the Pope visited George Bush recently, he told the US president that the work was as evil as infanticide, because obtaining the cells involves destroying early stage human embryos, and US Catholic bishops told him that the work is "illegal, immoral and unnecessary".

Jane Perrone
Friday August 10, 2001
Guardian Unlimited

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Information Reference:

The information within this page was collated from several different sources by George Quinn.

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