Why Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

With all the spume and nonsense online and in the media regarding embryonic stem cell research, it's actually quite hard to find a sane, well-written, scientific article that explains just why embryonic stem cell research is important. The staff over at blog.bioethics.net seem have found a good example, even if it is rather diluted by discussion of funding and politics:

My laboratory is studying embryonic stem cells in hopes of making blood stem cell transplants safer and more widely applicable. A critical part of the strategy is using somatic cell nuclear transfer to generate stem cells that are customized to the specific patients I mentioned earlier, kids with leukemia, immune deficiency, and sickle cell anemia. We hope to correct the genetic defects in these patient-specific cells, direct their differentiation into blood, and transplant kids with these genetically matched autologous cells. This strategy is already working in mice, and we are eager to translate this work into humans. The current Federal funding policies have held us back.

Although it is true that no one has to date been treated with cellular therapies based on human embryonic stem cells, I can assure you that mouse embryonic stem cells have had a major impact on medical research. Over the past 25 years, mouse embryonic stem cells have been used to create models for scores of human diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, and Alzheimer's. Research discoveries based on these models has led to new drug development and therefore touched countless lives. As for the criticism that no one has been cured with embryonic stem cells, the field of human embryonic stem cell research is a mere 7 years old, so it is premature to expect successful cell therapies to have already been delivered to patients. I believe it is only a matter of time before human embryonic stem cells are used in drug development research and become the basis for important new cell therapies.

As further evidence of how human embryonic stem cells enable unique opportunities to study disease, consider research on Fanconi's anemia. Kids with Fanconi's anemia suffer bone marrow failure, and often develop leukemia. Scientists have tried to model this disease in mice, but the mice do not develop bone marrow failure, and the adult blood stem cells from Fanconi's patients cannot be maintained in culture. Recently, a team from the Reproductive Genetics Institute of Chicago isolated a human embryonic stem cell line that carries a Fanconi's gene mutation. This cell line could enable us to study the uniquely human aspects of Fanconi's anemia.

Read the whole thing - there's a lot more.


this is just a way to keep abortions alive and well nothing has ever been cured by this recearch and nothing ever will we should be spending money on things that do cure people, problem is if there is no money in it nobody wants to pursue it all I keep hearing is studies suggest or this could possibly, you people need to quit lying to people and saying that this research can cure things that you have no proof of. triclabendazole is a good example of a medicine that could cure a lot of people but only vets are allowed to use it so cows must be even more important than us humans which also explains why people dont thik twice about killing us before we even have a chance to live

Posted by: James at October 31st, 2006 8:30 PM

Sadly, the world doesn't work the way you seem to think it does. Certainty, in particular, is a myth. Also mythical: the humanity of anything that cannot both think and feel.

Posted by: Reason at October 31st, 2006 8:39 PM

you suck

Posted by: nbgf at January 24th, 2007 11:57 AM

Sadly enough, embryonic stem cells (ESC) have not shown as much promise as adult stem cells (ASC). Cases now documented in medical and science journals, show ESC's cause tumors and tissue rejection. However ASC have shown promise from diabetes to parkisons. Pick up a medical journal once in a while, much to learn from them. ESC's are being pushed by big biotech lobby groups. Many of these groups are into Transhumanism and New Eugenic movements. Google it for yourselves, the future is scary. Regenative medicine would be non-controversial if we were using our own stem cells to regenerate ourselves. No tissue rejection and no tumors!
It makes no sense that politicians and hollywood stars are not more educated about this..because this movement actually has very little to do with pro-life or prochoice. Honestly look up transhumanism...it is a reality because of ESC's!

that is all

Posted by: Nathan at April 13th, 2007 8:15 AM

It's kinda funny how someone can be so stupid that they actually believe that adult stem cells are more promising than embryonic. The fact is, adult stem cells are multipotent and not pluripotent (translation) adult stem cells can't differentiate into any cell or tissue in the body, embryonic can. That's what the whole debate was about in the first place, along with the fact that they are also easier to isolate and are more likely to survuve in a lab

Posted by: Dan at April 19th, 2007 4:02 PM

All research is worth exploring. There is no harm in studying Embryonic stem cells. If these Christian based religions spent more time on the people that are living and breathing, and less time on the unborn, unknown, and the dead; this world would be a much better place. Take it from someone whose had leukemia. If it wasn't for science, I wouldn't be alive.

Posted by: Jaclyn at June 21st, 2007 7:14 AM

Humans have 46 chromosomes: 23 come from the mother (egg); 23 from the father (sperm). An egg without a sperm has only 23 chromosomes; it must be "fertilized" by the sperm to be endowed with all the genetic information (carried on the DNA of the 46 chromosomes) required for life.

All cells in the body are derived from this one fertilized egg. All the cells have the same chromosomes; the same DNA. What makes cells different is that different parts of the DNA are active in different cells. This activity is controlled by the activity of proteins and RNA (two things which are derived from the information carried by DNA).

The fertilized egg is a stem cell, but it's not the only stem cell. The fertilized egg divides into two cells and then four cells and then 8 cells. A stem cell can give rise to all of the tissues and organs necessary to make a human being. At a certain point, however, the stem cell becomes a "committed" cell. It can no longer make a human being. It can only make a certain type of tissue.

The "first generation" method of making a stem cell is to take an egg from a woman and fertilize the egg with donor sperm (actually a bunch of eggs, as excess embryos are typically created in in vitro fertilization clinics at the same time; the excess eggs/embryos are stored in liquid nitrogen for possible latter use). The fertilized egg is allowed to divide several times in cell culture, resulting in a little ball of typically 4 - 16 stem cells; in effect, the earliest embryo. This first generation technology type of stem cell is objectionable to the Catholic Church.

But stem cells will shortly be able to be created using a "second generation" technology. Take an adult skin cell; introduce a small number of genes which direct the "committed" adult skin cell to revert all the way back to an embryonic stem cell; potentially capable of not only being used for stem cell research, but potentially capable of developing into a human baby, given the proper growth conditions.

This "second generation" technology stem cell would have the same genetic material and the same capabilities as a "first generation" technology stem cell. It would be the same cell as it was at the time it was a newly fertilized egg. It would genetically be an identical twin; a clone of the original fertilized egg, in every sense of the word. This "second generation" technology is acceptable to the Catholic Church.

But the cells are the same. In one case, the cells are created by going forward (fertilizing an egg). In the other case, the cells are created by going backwards (introducing a handful of gene to reprogram the DNA of an adult cell, so that the cell reverts back to the state of a newly fertilized egg). But the cells potentially are the same, with the same potential for developing into a baby. In point of fact, it may well be that the first cloned human baby will come from this "second generation" technology and not from the "first generation" technology which everyone worries about. By officially sanctioning research into this "second generation" technology, the Catholic Church may actually be lending their support to a technology which has the greater potential for being used for a purpose they condemn (the cloning of a human).

This is a very new development. The technology was first developed/reported in Japan. It's now been independently confirmed at Harvard, currently the US leader, because they've got a lot of private money to do the work (Larry Weisenthal's older daughter has been working with it at Harvard). California labs will shortly be up and running. Initial work has been done with mouse embryonic stem cells and mouse skin cells "turned back" to embryonic stem cells.

It is hardly a remarkable event. All cells from a single individual have the same DNA. It's only a matter of controlling which part of the total DNA is active. Everything is derived from that fertilized egg. There's no reason a cell can't be reprogrammed to return to precisely the state it was in which it was a primitive embryonic stem cell or the original stem cell -- the fertilized egg itself.

In terms of them being 100% identical, save for the 4 extraneous genes introducted to turn the non-pluripotent skin (somatic) cell back into a true embryonic stem cell, these genes would either silence themselves spontaneously or could be silenced using already available technology (e.g. RNA interference).

There are a number of reasons to believe that it might actually be easier to clone a human by going backwards (2nd generation technology) than going forwards (first generation technology), which is based on introducing a somatic cell nucleus into a potentially "hostile" environment of an egg from a different person (who is not a clone of the individual from which the somatic cell nucleus was obtained).

The scientific wing of the Catholic Church has not figured this out and is basically embracing this "2nd Generation Embryonic Stem Cell Technology" as a fig leaf for withdrawing from the stem cell wars, which is a Genie which has forever escaped from the bottle.

The hypocrisy stemming from the Catholic Church is astounding. I guess God is in the test tube in the First Generation process, but no where to be found in the Second Generation process. God's will just has no bearing at all on the 2nd process.....go figure. Fear not, when the Pope figures out the mistake here, the Catholic Church will try to squash any support and make everyone's life miserable.

People of Faith muck it up for humankind when they let their senseless and inconsistant edicts stand in the way of harmless research, makes the case stronger that their rules and beliefs make little sense.

Posted by: gpawelski at October 14th, 2007 2:25 PM

What is the big deal with this resaearch? I mean aren't these eggs left by the female and she never returns to get it? If noone wants it and noone uses it then why can't it be used to try and cure some of the many illnesses that plague us today? They sit in a freezer for God knows how long and for what taking up storage space. I mean, why not try and make our world a little bit better if we had a cure for certain types of cancer, personally I think that Embryonic stem cell research is better than adult stem cell research because these are new cells not cells you have to chemical all up just to make them work. Everyone cannot tolerate all the different type of chemicals, therfore instead of helping you are hurting. How can you be religious and you don't beleive in doing what it take to help someone? I can see if we were making women pregnant just to harvest these cells but that is not the case. Lets wake up people.

Posted by: Angela McKinney at November 3rd, 2007 9:45 AM

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