Throughout history, since the beginning of time, varying diseases and disorders have affected humans worldwide. Ever since then, it has been the goal of scientists and doctors alike to try and relieve mankind of any unnecessary pain and or suffering.
For this reason, science and scientists need to search for the very best sources of therapies that have the potential to change people’s quality of life.
When they are identified, regardless of their sources, researchers need to be able to use them to pursue the development of important therapies.
Stem cells can be used to grow any organ.
What are stem cells?
A reserve cell with the capacity to grow and multiply to replace dead or damaged adult cells. Some, but not all, organs and tissues in the body have a supply of stem cells – skin is an example: skin wounds are repaired by skin stem cells, similarly, liver damage is repaired by liver stem cells. Reserve stem cells do not, however, exist for many vital tissues, including: heart, spinal cord, brain and pancreas. Scientists are developing new sources of stem cells for these tissues.
Stem cells are incredibly valuable to science and this is because they have the capacity to develop into any type of cell in the body.
And therefore, they have the potential to be used for almost anything, organ transplants, a cure for Parkinson’s and much more.
When a woman’s egg is fertilized, the egg (or zygote) is totipotent — it has the capacity to turn into any type of cell in the human body, including the placenta.
Fetal stem cells, once harvested, cannot become embryos.
About four days after fertilization the cells begin to specialize and form a blastocyst, which is a hollow sphere of cells with an inner cell mass in the center.
The outer layer of cells becomes the placenta and other tissues necessary for the survival of the fetus.
The inner cell mass goes on to form the fetus and eventually the baby. It is these inner cells that are so incredible because they go on to form all the tissues in the human body.
If this inner cell mass was placed in a woman’s uterus, it would not develop into a fetus1 and because of this some people claim that this cannot be considered an embryo.
The controversy comes when the cells are harvested. Harvesting can be done by:
- obtaining cells from the embryos of terminated pregnancies
- getting them from embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics
The politics of stem cells
In 1993, President Clinton banned federally funded research on stem cells and now President Bush has promised that he’ll “not support research from aborted fetuses.”
Many fear that a lack of federal funding will slow research.
The government’s position reflects the views by others who oppose stem cell research. For example:
Religious groups and some politicians believe that it’s unethical to harvest these cells because they believe it destroys the embryo.
One Kansas senator went as far as to say that it’s “Nazism,” saying it’s “illegal, immoral, and unnecessary.”
Some religious groups also believe that “you are getting in the way of God’s work.”
These arguments are only the beginning.
There are many more, some of which may cause you to think twice about the issue. It is because of this opposition that this fairly new, revolutionary research has been slowed to less than a crawl.
What are fetal stem cells?
The developing organs and tissues in a fetus contain a relatively large supply of stem cells because they are needed for growth and maturation.
The difference between embryonic stem cells and fetal stem cells is the fetal stem cells have matured part of the way to mature cells.
For example, if it takes 20 maturation steps for an embryonic stem cell to turn into a mature skin cell, fetal skin cells are at step 10; they are not as mature as adult skin stem cells, but they are past the stage of becoming committed to the liver.
Alternative stem cells
If a reliable alternative source of stem cells could be found, the controversy over the ethics of fetal stem cell research could end.
Recent studies have shown that it may be possible to use stem cells from other adults, or even your own, instead of embryos, thus eliminating the ethical concerns of some people.
Unfortunately, finding specific multipotent1, or specialized, stem cells in adults has proven to be a challenge in the past. For example:
Adult stem cells have limited potential and may carry genetic mutations.
Until recently it was believed that the adult nervous system did not contain any stem cells, but since then they have been located in rat and mouse nervous systems, bringing hope for additional sources of these cells.
It is also thought that we may someday be able to transplant them back into our own bodies as needed. However, if the disorder you are battling is a genetic disposition then this theory has a few flaws.
Your stem cells will have the same genetic defect.
Growing them in a lab will not change that, and they will be ineffective.
They are found in limited quantities and have not yet been isolated for all cell and tissue types in the body.
If someone needs a stem cell transplant right away, growing adult cells in a lab will take too long and another source will need to be used.
Thus, the question remains “From where should we get these stem cells?”
A case for the opposition
The organ market is an example against stem cell research used by many anti-abortionist groups.4 They maintain that:
Opposition claims a black market exists for fetal stem cells.
Doctors change abortion procedures and harm living babies in order to obtain “perfect” cell samples. Not only are both these things illegal, but also it’s more painful and dangerous for the patient.
They also say that doctors encourage the sale of babies and baby body parts on the black market. Many sources claim that a single liver sells for between $125 and $150, a brain for between $150 and $999, and that you can buy a whole specimen, unprocessed for $70.
One woman, with the pseudonym Kelly, says that while working for a firm trafficking body parts, she witnessed doctors killing babies that came from late term abortions and were still alive.
Whether incidents like this actually take place or not, they are a sinister reminder of what money can entice people to do.
Can fetal stem cells repair adult organs and tissues?
Possibly. There are currently several problems with the therapeutic use of fetal stem cells.
First, fetal tissue research is highly controversial. There are significant moral and ethical issues with the use of fetal tissues for research purposes.
Second, the numbers of stem cells in fetal tissues may not be sufficient for the therapeutic needs of adults. Thus, methods need to be developed to greatly expand the supply of fetal stem cells if they are to be therapeutically useful.
Third, tissue rejection problems similar to those encountered in kidney and heart transplants may limit the usefulness of fetal stem cells.
A case for fetal stem cells
The good that can come of fetal stem cells far outweighs the opposition’s arguments. Potentially, thousands, or even million of lives could be saved from such devastating diseases as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, paralysis, and more.
Parkinson’s is one example of successful stem cell therapy:
Primate studies show fetal stem cells can reverse Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a muscle degeneration disorder that affects over 1,000,000 people in the United States alone and each year over 60,000 more a diagnosed (one every nine minutes).
The disease works in the exact opposite way as Alzheimer’s does. Parkinson’s begins with tremors and stiffness, eventually leaving the patient unable to move, speak, or even swallow.
It leaves a perfectly good mind trapped in a useless body, unable to move.
In recent studies done on primates who were injected with a neurotoxin that causes severe nerve damage, all symptoms were reversed after fetal stem cells were transplanted into the animals.