Should Embryonic Stem-Cell Research Be Banned?
In recent times, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding stem-cell research. Some say that it will contribute substantially in curing diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, Lou-Gehrig’s, etc while others claim that it violates the ethical and moral norms and principles of the society. Bills promoting stem-cell research have been vetoed several times, making it a political issue as well. However, stem-cell research should not be banned because its expected benefits significantly outweigh its losses. It can be used to cure a great number of deadly diseases and holds the promise of providing even further benefits.
Stem-cells are actually cells that have not undergone complete development, or, in other words did not differentiate into the cell of a specialized tissue or organ. They possess two important characteristics: they can undergo numerous cycles of cell-division or producing a large number of its own kind, yet at the same time possess the capacity of differentiating into a cell of any tissue or organ of the body. Stem-cells are broadly classified into two types, the adult stem cells and the embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are found at many places in the human body, while embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos. For research purposes, embryonic stem cells are superior to adult stem cells because the former possesses comparatively greater divisional and differentiation capacities (National Institutes of Health 27-35). Embryonic stem cells hold the promise of finding cures for many debilitating diseases. One of these diseases that it promises to cure is Parkinson’s, the disease that Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox are affected with, and is said to be the leading cause behind Pope John Paul II’s death. This disease is caused when certain cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for “smooth, coordinated movement of the body’s muscles,” are damaged. As a result, the person shows “tremors, slowness of movement, and muscle rigidity” (qtd. in Scott 78). Today, the treatment used to a great extent to treat Parkinson’s disease to some extent is administration of L-dopa to the affected patient, the drug that gets converted into dopamine in the brain (Madeleine and Lee 55). In other words, this technique provides a solution only to the effects of the disease, and not its underlying root cause, i.e., it only helps in reducing the aforesaid symptoms, and does not cure the disease. Besides, it has its own side-effects and is not always effective (Madeleine and Lee 55). On the other hand, human embryonic stem cells can be coaxed to differentiate into dopamine secreting cells, which can then be introduced into the brain of a person affected with Parkinson’s, and hence this disease can be cured, thereby targeting the underlying cause of this disease and not merely its symptoms. This proposition has been supported by experiment on laboratory rats in which embryonic stem-cells isolated from rats were differentiated into dopamine producing cells and implanted into the brain of rats affected by this disease. After implantation, the cells started secreting dopamine and the rats showed a significant reduction in the symptoms without any side-effects or negative consequences (Scott 79). The only step that has not been taken in this regard till date is doing the same with humans, and once this is done, it will certainly go a long way in completely curing Parkinson’s disease in humans. Thus, embryonic stem-cell research has a tremendous potential to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Besides having a tremendous potential to cure Parkinson’s disease, embryonic stem cell research also promises a cure for diabetes, caused by reduced or no production of insulin in the body, a chemical that regulates the level of sugar in the blood. As a result, the blood sugar level rises, leading to symptoms like fatigue and weakness, and also...
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