Stem Cell Controversy

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Stem Cell Controversy
Stem cells were first isolated and cultured in November of 1998 and have been surrounded with much debate and controversy since day one. “Although the ethical debates have been mostly static and have closely mimicked the ethical debates over abortion, the political determinations concerning federal funding of stem cell research have gone through numerous evolutions in the years since the first hESCs were isolated and cultured” (Saltzberg 505). Research is currently being conducted on stem cells, but only with private funds. The federal government has a ban on funding embryonic stem cell research because of the controversial issue of using embryos and fetuses. However, because of the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat many diseases, conditions, and disabilities, the federal government should fund stem cell research.

About 30 years ago scientists learned of ways to extract embryonic stem cells from early mouse embryos. In a study conducted by Doctor Douglas Kerr, a group of 120 mice were infected with a virus that caused spinal cord damage. “When fluid containing human embryonic stem cells was infused into the spinal fluid of the paralyzed rodents, every one of the animals regained at least some movement” (Ruse 72). After many experiments and study of the mouse stem cells, the question of whether embryonic stem cells could provide the same treatments for humans as it did for the mice arises. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are cells that have the ability to develop into a few or many types of specialized cells in the body. There are three types of stem cells ranging from totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent stem cells, which will determine which types of cells a stem cell can develop into. According to a report on the science of stem cell research issued by the National Institutes of Health in the summer of 2001, “A stem cell is a special kind of cell that has a unique capacity to renew itself and to give rise to specialized cell types” (Snow 3). Stem cells can be extracted from fetal tissue and embryos, which is why there is so much controversy surrounding stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells originate from embryos that have been created by in vitro fertilization. Once the egg has developed, cell division begins. After about nine days a blastocyst forms and this is where stem cells are derived from. “These early embryonic stem cells give rise to all the tissues in the body, and are therefore considered ‘totipotent’ or capable of generating all things” (Ruse 263). Scientists have conducted many experiments and have found that early embryonic cells preserve the ability to make mature cell types in culture if they are supplied with the correct molecular signals. Scientists are working on discovering how the signals inside and out of the cell work and what triggers each signal. They have found that “the internal signals are controlled by a cell’s genes, which are interspersed across long strands of DNA, and carry coded instructions for all cellular structures and functions. The external signals for cell differentiation include chemicals secreted by other cells, physical contact with neighboring cells” (Info Center). However, it is still not clear as to how well these cells have developed and whether they will work normally when introduced to the true complexities of the human body. There is still much research needed to be conducted to find out exactly how these stem cells will work in the human body. Since the federal government does not fund research towards stem cells, it is much harder to make scientific advances with embryonic stem cells. However, embryonic stem cells are not the only option when dealing with stem cells. A multipotent stem cell basically does the same function as a pluripotent cell, but it is restricted in what it can develop into. “Examples of multipotent stem cells include those in the brain that...
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