One of the most controversial debates in recent history has been the human embryonic stem cell debate. Millions and millions of embryos are not used each year when they could very well lead to a cure for fatal diseases such as leukemia and cancer. As well as become a cure for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Human embryonic stem cell research has enormous potential to cure many diseases and change the face of modern medicine. However, there is much debate against the use of embryos because many people believe that an embryo should be treated as a human being because they have the potential to become human beings. Background information on the research of embryonic stem cells is important to know before developing an opinion.
“All cells come from cells” (Holland et al. 4). There are three different types of stem cells: totipotent, pluripotent, and specific stem cells. All of them have the capacity to grow, reproduce and produce specific body cells or tissues. Totipotent stem cells are totally potent and are capable of forming any kind of body cell. An individual totipotent cell has the potential to become a human being. All cells are totipotent during the early stages of an embryo (Peters). Pluripotent or multipotent stem cells are not totally potent therefore they cannot develop into a human being. Pluripotent stem cells can develop into the three major tissue types: endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm (Piñón 501). Tissue specific cells are what they are, specific stem cells. They develop into specific cells. For example, skin stem cells produce only skin cells, blood stem cells produce only blood cells and so on (Holland et al. 5). Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) come from an early stage embryo. Fetal stem cells are cells within the fetus that cultivate into various organs (Stem Cell 13) and adult stem cells are within a specific tissue such as the brain or bone marrow. Adult stem cells have the potential to replicate themselves and become specialized to other types of tissue (Stem Cell 13). Of all the stem cell and embryo research that has been conducted, the most important discoveries about stem cells have been discovered in recent years. In 1999, the journal “Science” declared stem cell research to be the breakthrough of the year, largely in part to the research performed by Dr. James Thomson and Dr. John Gearhart (“Breakthroughs” 1999 2-3). In 1998, Dr. James Thomson, an associate veterinarian in the University of Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center, led a research team that was the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells. Thomson and his team started with a fertilized ova, embryos from in vitro fertilization, not placed in a uterus and cultured them for about four to six days. In doing this, they created a line of embryonic stem cells. Another important discovery also came in 1998, from John Hopkins University School of Medicine where Dr. John Gearhart, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics, led a research team that successfully drew human embryonic germ cells from fetal tissue. These cells are exactly like pluripotent (not totally potent and cannot develop into a human being) stem cells. Cloning has strong ties to stem cell research because both involve the use embryos. In 1997, Ian Wilmut cloned a sheep named Dolly. Wilmut has never tried to clone a human and he is still against the idea. Dolly was actually not the first animal cloned. During the 1960s, frogs were reported to be successfully cloned. But this did not attract the interest of politicians or the public. The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, the same institute that cloned Dolly, had actually cloned sheep before. In 1995, two lambs, Megan and Morag were cloned. However, these 1995 clonings also did not attract much interest. The main reason that Dolly was so popular is that Dolly was cloned from an adult sheep that was already dead (Piñón 499). During cloning,...
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