Stem Cells

Setting the Record Straight

Stem cell research is one of the most compelling and far-reaching debates of our time. Yet, you, as well as most of the general public are probably confused about this important issue.

Why? Because most of the news media, scientists and elected officials simply don’t tell you that there are three types of stem cells:

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Living Human Embryo is Always Destroyed to Obtain the Stem Cells

Embryonic stem cell research remains controversial because a living human embryo must be killed to obtain the cells. Huge ethical problems here. We have to destroy a life because maybe — and it is a big maybe — another person might be helped someday.

The “hype” about embryonic stem cells is such that you and many others probably believe “cures” are either happening or right around the corner for patients with illnesses like Parkinson’s disease or diabetes. You are sadly misled. Even James Thomson, the UW-Madison scientist who first isolated embryonic stem cells, expressed as recently as January 2007 in an interview that “it may be decades before stem cells produce treatments that cure diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or help the paralyzed walk again.” Thomson said that there is more than a little “irrational exuberance” surrounding embryonic stem cells.

Dangers Found with Embryonic Stem Cells

Embryonic stem cells have not been placed into humans because the cells grow uncontrollably and could create tumors if put into a human person.

A new or frozen embryo is a unique member of the human family with his or her own genetic makeup or DNA. If embryonic stem cells are put into a different person, the cells will be rejected in the same manner as if a person receives a transplanted organ from another person. Immunosuppressive drugs with the accompanying risks and complications would be needed to prevent rejection of the cells.

Why do Scientists Want Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

Scientists believe that embryonic stem cells have the potential to become any cell or tissue in the body, an attribute they call pluripotent. To date, scientists have not been able to isolate a specific cell or tissue from embryonic stem cells.

Why Not Get Some "Good" from Frozen Embryos Which Are Going to Be Destroyed Anyway?

You probably feel on some level that we should obtain some “good” for people suffering from serious conditions by using frozen embryos that might be discarded. This line of reasoning ignores basic ethical principles that one human being should not be destroyed or used for the potential or even real benefit to another. And, this argument is being oversold.

Of the 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States, only 2-3% are potentially available for research purposes. If all 8,000 to 12,000 are donated, only 275 will be useful for creating stem cell lines after thawing and other processes, far too few for the number of researchers who want them. That’s why scientists will likely eventually create human embryos through the process of in vitro fertilization or clone human embryos and then destroy them for research purposes.

Further, frozen human embryos don’t have to be destroyed. They can be made available for adoption.

Is There an End to the Stem Cell Debate?

In what is regarded as a major scientific breakthrough, scientists in Wisconsin and Japan reported in late 2007 that they were able to coax ordinary skin cells into becoming pluripotent stem cells — cells that have the potential to become any cell or tissue in the body. These cells are called iPS cells (induced Pluripotent Stem Cells). No living human beings had to be destroyed to achieve this discovery which is revolutionizing this entire area of research.

This process has been replicated by many research labs all over the world. To be certain, the ethical controversy over destruction of human embryos has been minimized, if not completely mitigated, by this discovery.

The practical benefits are enormous. It is far easier to extract skin cells from a child or adult than to create and destroy an embryo or gain permission to use and destroy a frozen embryo. There is a limited supply of frozen embryos. Embryonic stem cells will be rejected because they carry the DNA of a different human person; using a person’s own cells eliminates the rejection factor.

Human cloning, and all of the risks and disadvantages associated with this process, is no longer necessary. Women will not have to undergo risks to produce enough eggs to allow human cloning to be practiced. The perceived need to create chimeras (which are part animal – part human) to carry out human cloning is eliminated.

iPS cells contain the same growth problems associated with embryonic stem cells and are too dangerous to put into a person just yet. This discovery should not halt in any way the incredible progress of adult stem cells which are helping real people with real diseases.

It remains to be seen if scientists will “cling” to embryonic stem cell research or move to ethical and practical research using iPS cells. James Thomson, the Wisconsin scientist who isolated the first embryonic stem cell in 1997 and co-discovered iPS cells in 2007, has formed two new research companies. The fact that Thomson, perhaps the world’s leading scientist in this area, is working exclusively with ethical iPS cells in his own companies is a beacon of hope for forging ahead to learn new ways to treat illnesses and conditions without destroying human lives.

Thanks to the moral fortitude and diligence of many, we have learned, once again, that advances in the treatment of human persons do not have to sacrifice one person for the benefit of another.

Adult Stem Cell Research

Only Adult Stem Cells have been used to treat medical conditions

What most people don’t know is that the score is 73 to nothing. There are 73 documented diseases and conditions that have been successfully treated using adult stem cells. Here are some moving examples:

    • A groundbreaking paper was published in the February 16, 2009 issue of the Bentham Open Stem Cell Journal regarding a clinical trial using adult neural stem cells in a patient with Parkinson’s Disease. The article states “…for the five years following the procedure the patient’s motor scales improved by over 80% for at least 36 months.”

 

    • The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine published a study of seven patients with spinal cord injury demonstrating that a patient’s own adult stem cells and mucous can treat paralysis. Two of the seven reported bladder sensation. One of the seven patients (who received treatment more than six years after the injury) regained bowel control and bladder sensation. Every patient improved in motor scores. “Most [of the patients] recovered sensation below the initial level injury that was repaired,” the article states.

 

    • Three-year-old Jordan Daye’s blinded eye was prepared for cornea transplant by removal of adult stem cells from a wedge of skin from the surface of his healthy eye.

 

    • A Brazilian woman suffering from a paralyzing brain hemorrhage has regained her ability to walk and talk after undergoing an adult stem cell transplant.

 

  • Hwang-Mi-Soon, a paraplegic South Korean woman, took steps using a walker after undergoing a transplant with adult stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood.

 

Real treatments for real people!

No One Has to Die to Retrieve Adult Stem Cells

No one has to die to retrieve adult stem cells which are found on virtually any part of a person’s body. Umbilical cord blood, the product left after a woman gives birth and previously believed to be medical waste, is rich in adult stem cells. So is the amniotic fluid surrounding an unborn baby. No ethical problems here.

iPS Cell Research

The Discovery of iPS Cells could end the Stem Cell Debate

In what is regarded as a major scientific breakthrough, scientists in Wisconsin and Japan reported in late 2007 that they were able to coax ordinary skin cells into becoming pluripotent stem cells — cells that have the potential to become any cell or tissue in the body. Pluripotent is the quality in embryonic stem cells that scientists believe is valuable for treating diseases and conditions.

These new cells are called iPS cells (induced Pluripotent Stem Cells). No living human beings had to be destroyed to achieve this discovery which is revolutionizing the entire area of stem cell research.

This process has been replicated by many research labs all over the world. To be certain, the ethical controversy over destruction of human embryos has been minimized, if not completely mitigated, by this discovery.

James Thomson of Wisconsin and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan raced to the finish line ahead of many other scientists worldwide working to create iPS cells. There are several reasons why scientists headed in this direction:

  • Scientists recognized the advantage of having patient-specific cells without having to obtain or create human embryos and destroy them or engage in cloning.

  • The Bush policy, which did not allow the use of federal funds to destroy living human embryos, spurred scientists to search for an ethical solution to a promising field.

  • Thomson and Yamanaka were motivated to resolve the ethical concerns surrounding embryonic stem cell research. Thomson said in 2007 that “If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.” Yamanaka stated “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters. I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

Practical Benefits of iPS Cells

The practical benefits are enormous. It is far easier to extract skin cells from a child or adult than to create and destroy an embryo or gain permission to use and destroy a frozen embryo. There is a limited supply of frozen embryos. Embryonic stem cells will be rejected because they carry the DNA of a different human person; using a person’s own cells eliminates the rejection factor.

Some have dubbed iPS cells as the “Holy Grail” of stem cell research because they are patient-specific and have the ability to benefit humanity without the ethical controversy from the loss of human life.

Human cloning, and all of the risks and disadvantages associated with this process, is no longer necessary. Women will not have to undergo risks to produce enough eggs to allow human cloning to be practiced. The perceived need to create chimeras (which are part animal – part human) to carry out human cloning is eliminated.

Use of iPS Cells

iPS cells contain all of the problems associated with embryonic stem cells and are too dangerous to put into a person just yet. This discovery should not in any way stop the incredible progress of adult stem cells which are helping real people with real diseases.

Some have dubbed iPS cells as the “Holy Grail” of stem cell research because they are patient-specific and have the ability to benefit humanity without the ethical controversy from the loss of human life.

Human cloning, and all of the risks and disadvantages associated with this process, is no longer necessary. Women will not have to undergo risks to produce enough eggs to allow human cloning to be practiced. The perceived need to create chimeras (which are part animal – part human) to carry out human cloning is eliminated.

What Will Happen to Embryonic Stem Cell Research

It remains to be seen if scientists will “cling” to embryonic stem cell research or move to ethical and practical research using iPS cells. James Thomson, the Wisconsin scientist who isolated the first embryonic stem cell in 1997 and co-discovered iPS cells in 2007, has formed two new research companies.

The fact that Thomson, perhaps the world’s leading scientist in this area, is working exclusively with ethical iPS cells in his own companies is a beacon of hope for forging ahead to learn new ways to treat illnesses and conditions without destroying human lives.

Thomson said, “We started a field (in 1998). Now we might have come up with the best thing to go on to. It creates a nice bookend to 10 years of controversy.”

Thanks to the moral fortitude and diligence of many, we have learned, once again, that advances in the treatment of human persons do not have to sacrifice one person for the benefit of another.

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