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    Bioethics of Stem Cell Research

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    Stem cell research is considered to be a controversial topic among the public eye. What stem cells can do is promote growth of new healthy cells in places that they are needed most. The reason these stem cells can do this is because they have not yet been turned into specialized cells. For example, a blood cell can only be and make other blood cells. Stem cells are unique in that they can turn into any number of other cells. It is for this reason that they are called pluripotent. Now, the reason it became so controversial is because these cells could only be found in embryos. Fortunately, researchers have found a way to turn specialized cells back into stem cells. (1)

    Pro – An advantage of these cells is that it can help build any or part of dead or damaged cells . Since the cells can be told what turn in to, they essentially could fix any part of the body. For example, a burn victim would be given these types of cells in order to grow back healthy new skin. Now researchers have come up with a way to restore a specialized cells’ ability to be a stem cell again. These restored cells are called iPS cells. This stands for induced pluripotent stem cells. This means that there is no longer a need to destroy an embryo to obtain the stem cells required for treatment. (1)

    Con – A disadvantage to this type of research is that it once was only obtainable to get the cells that can change into anything by destroying an embryo. By destroying the embryo, it would not be able to develop into a baby. Therefore to most people it is considered to be taking a life. So now, in the public eye it is mostly rejected. This causes the government to reduce funding for this kind of research because people think of it as unethical. This in turn slows down the progress of the research. (1)

    Current use – Currently, there are about ten medically accepted uses of stem cells. The most common among these is the transplantation of bone marrow. This procedure has improved the lives of many patients that have received this transplant. Mainly those who suffer from leukemia have benefited from this transplant because the marrow begins to produce healthy blood cells in the patient’s body. Over time the bone marrow is able make enough healthy blood cells to help cure the patient of cancer. (5)

    Potential use – Scientists hope to harness their ability to change into any type of cell in order to help restore and heal any damaged tissue a person may have. By doing this, researchers would be essentially able to fix any problem that a patient may be suffering from. Anything from a gashing wound to cancer. (1)

    Government regulation – In 2001, President Bush placed regulations that significantly decreased the funding of future stem cell research. Any of the research being done from before the date given was still able to receive some of the initial funds. The Bush administration took this action because of the public’s view on stem cell research. As mentioned before, the majority of people thought this kind of research entailed the ending of babies’ lives. (2)

    Government regulation – Although in 2009, under the Obama administration, restrictions on funding for stem cell research were eased. As long as the embryos fell under the NIH’s guidelines was an embryo able to be used. There were two major rules that determined whether or not the embryos could be used for this type of research. One of the rules was that the embryo must have come from in vitro fertilization that is no longer needed or wanted. The second rule being that those who wished to donate their embryo must have their wish in writing. If the embryos did not fall under these rules then they were not even consider. This limited the amount of embryos that were actually capable of being used. (2)

    Science – The cultivation of the embryonic stem cells begins in the blastocyst stage. It is here that they are taken from the inner cell mass, ICM for short. From there they are isolated and this is where the destruction of the embryos occurs. Isolation causes the cells to starve and that is what actually causes the embryo’s deterioration. Now there are other ways to harvest the cells, but this was the initial way the cells were harvested. In more recent research the use of iPS cells have become more and more common. (9)

    Health – Since stem cells can be turned into many other types of cells it could be used to treat people with diabetes by helping them produce the insulin that they need to survive. It could also be used to treat alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even stroke. So potentially the result of this kind of research could impact people on a wide scale. Again, the reason why the cells would be able to help all of those people is because of the cells’ ability to change into almost any type of specialized cell needed. (5)

    Global impact – Since stem cell research instills hope for cures for so many diseases, interest for it has grow around the world. Many countries are seeing the immense potential of doing this type of research. Now, there is more research coming out to help accelerate the progress of this research. Consequently, there is more information out there on what the possibilities the stem cells can help solve. (8)

    Religious views – For many religions, such as Catholicism, this type of research is believed to be the equivalent of a homicide. To most of these religious groups, conception is the start of life and therefore demands that the embryos have the right to live. At this point of its life, the embryo has the same basic human rights everyone else has in their view. This is why the destruction of the embryos is seen as something unacceptable, even if the embryos used were not wanted by parents. (3)

    Cultural views – As the years have gone by, there has been an increase of support of embryonic stem cell research. Even major religious groups are becoming accustomed to the idea in order to better the lives of so many. Many of these religious groups believe that it is okay for the embryo to be destroyed, but only if it between a certain amount of time. From group to group the amount of time varies, but one example is Hindus allowing the embryo to be harvested if they are less than 14 days old. After whatever specific time period the group set, the research is again seen essentially as murder. (4)

    Future uses – In the future, researchers hope to be able to cure paralyzed patients. They would be able to do this by giving the patient the stem cells and make them turn into nerve cells. In doing this, the nerves and spine would be able to repair itself. The goal by the end of the patient’s treatment would for them to be able to walk again. This is just one example of how stem cells would be able to change how doctors would approach these types of problems. (6)

    Future uses – Besides healing severed bones and leukemia, stem cell research may be able to cure retinal diseases. Retinal regeneration using these cells would help people with retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt’s disease, and many others. The two diseases mentioned both affect the patient’s eyes. Being able to harness the stem cells’ potential would not only help any of the diseases or injuries that a person have, but also put old outdated procedures and techniques to rest. (7)

    Works Cited

    1. Stevens, Alison Pearce. “Stem Cells: The Secret to Change.” Science News for Students, 2 July 2016
    2. “Embryonic Stem Cell Research.” Association of American Medical Colleges Liu, Joseph. “Stem Cell Research at the Crossroads of Religion and Politics.” Pew
    3. Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 17 July 2008
    4. “The Cultural Push Towards Moral Stem Cell Harvesting.” Developmental Psychology at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt University cirm_2.0. “The Power of Stem Cells.” California’s Stem Cell Agency, 29 Feb. 2016
    5. Shafer, Aaron. “Stem Cells.” Understanding Genetics, 2006
    6. Ramsden, Conor M., et al. “Stem Cells in Retinal Regeneration: Past, Present and Future.” Development, Oxford University Press for The Company of Biologists Limited, 15 June 2013
    7. “The Impact of Federal Policy on Global Competition in Stem Cell Research.” Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), 2008,
    8. Desai, Nina, et al. “Human Embryonic Stem Cell Cultivation: Historical Perspective and Evolution of Xeno-Free Culture Systems.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015,

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