“Stem Cell Research” is a term that has yielded plenty of promising results
over the past 10 years. Stem cells are tiny cells that contain the
information needed to develop a minuscule embryo into a fully functioning
living organism. These cells can be extracted from embryos in early stages
of development and can be used to grow or regenerate a wide range of
tissue. Although stem cell research is a relatively new science, many
experts agree that much is to be gained.
“Stem cells seem to remind the body that is knows how to heal itself,” (A)
says William Haseltine, referring to the studies in which stem cells are
injected into a patient in order to stimulate growth of lost or damaged
Recent studies have shown great progress in treating a wide range
The process by which stem cells are used to regenerate tissue is quite
complicated. If one were to try to regenerate skin, for example, they
would first have to isolate the nucleus of a skin cell of a donor. Then
the nucleus must be implanted into an egg and the egg must be allowed to
develop. Then in the early stages of development the scientists can pluck
out the embryonic stem cells that are genetically identical to that of the
donor. They could then culture these cells to in effect “grow” skin.
fact that this skin is genetically identical to that of the donor would
eliminate the risk of rejection and the need for immunosuppressive drugs
that may lead to complications.
So far, most of the research has been performed on lab mice.
Researchers have successfully isolated stem cells that seem to play an
important role in the repairing of heat disease. There have also been
promising results in treating of diabetes. Stem cell research has not just
been limited to the rodents there have been several human studies. For
example a woman named Sylvia Elam had undergone several surgeries since her
massive stroke in 1992.
She had been wheelchair bound ever since that day
and had lost most of her ability to speak. Her condition had been steadily
deteriorating and her husband had seen enough of her suffering. They
consented for Sylvia to become one of the first 12 humans to have neuron
cells, created in a laboratory from stem cells, implanted into her brain.
A quarter-sized hole was drilled into her head and a syringe containing six
million neuronal cells was inserted into her cortex, which in turn injected
these cells into her damaged brain. Her recovery was amazing; within two
months she was out of her wheel chair and walking. The doctors reported
that six of the 12 patients involved in the study were showing definite
signs of improved brain activity.
One would think that such promising
results would cajole lawmakers to increase federal spending on stem cell
research. Until recently, in the United States, this has not been the
For scientists in the United States, working with stem cells
extracted from embryos has been particularly rough. As recently as August
of 2001, federal funding of research, which involved extracting stem cells
from embryos was illegal. This was a follow up to a law imposed in 1987
that banned US Government funding for fetal research. This ban was
eventually lifted in 1993 when the government realized the vast number of
lives that could be saved from this significant research.
It is a tragedy
that this same cycle must be replayed for stem cell research because it
sets the United States behind the rest of the world. Many US scientists
have been forced to immigrate to Britain for example, where stem cell
research laws are much less stringent. In the UK, scientists are allowed
to work with embryos 14 days old and younger and still receive federal
funding. This allows researchers to capture stem cells that are otherwise
Although stem cells have yet to change modern day medicine as it is
known today, that vision may soon become a reality.