Friday, January 12, 2007

Embrionic Stem Cells

It appears that stem cells are back on the front pages these days as part of the democratic party's 100 hour plan. I could go into great length about the problems of embryonic stem cell research on an ethical level, but in all honesty, I think we need to be looking at the major problems on a scientific level. So let's take a closer look at stem cell research, shall we?

It would seem to most Americans that embryonic stem cells are in essence the philosopher's stone that will turn diseased and aged bodies into pinnacles of health. It would also seem that this miraculous discovery lay in the warehouses of science untouched due to government restrictions (like the ark of the covenant at the end of Indiana Jones, sorry if you haven't seen the movie). But the truth is over 20 million dollars has been spent on embryonic stem cell research since 2002, 900 papers have been published about human embryonic stem cell research (and over 1000 papers published on animal stem cell research), and 80 research projects have been devoted to the study of embryonic stem cell research. Clearly this field is not scientific potential stunted by politics.
"So what has been learned from this research?" you might ask. "An excellent question" I would respond. With all the research that has been done thus far, it would seem that
scientists would have a great deal of evidence that embryonic stem cells are the gold mine that they predicted it would be. But they haven't. In fact, most research shows that this field is a dead end scientifically, economically, and ethically. You can find a detailed account of the major problems with embryonic stem cells in this article.

Dan, 5:22 AM

4 Comments:

For you Yankees, that's the "Sorcerer's Stone." Sorcerer's Stone.
Blogger Mrs. Sara, at 8:18 AM  
Not to rain on yer parade, but 20 million dollars and 80 research projects is hardly anything. A medical technology this complex will likely require billions of dollars before it is even testable on human subjects. I don't think anyone believes that a miracle cure is right around the corner.

Secondly, research with embryonic stem cells has been extremely promising. The article talks about the injection of human stem cells into mice done by UC researchers but seems to ignore the fact that said study resulted in the cure of paralysis in the mice, not just regenerating neurons, but the myelin sheath. That article needs to cite more (or at all). There's a lot of wild, unfounded generalizations made in it.

Note that I do not support embryonic stem cell therapy (at least involving the use of aborted fetuses). However, to say that this is a scientific dead end is laughable. I have a lot of hope for recent discoveries such as alternative extraction methods that do not harm a live embryo and the one talked about recently involving amniotic stem cells. Hopefully these will make the current controversies a non-issue.
Blogger Brian G, at 12:05 PM  
I would agree that the author of the article would definitely have benefited from some citation, but despite that I think the points he makes raise some serious questions.
It is true that embryonic stems cells could have potential to turn into any cell type, but there has been no studies that show that they can be controlled to grow into a uniform type. I understand that much more research and money is needed before it can be tested on humans, but that was kind of the point of the article. In the research being done with animals, they are running into crippling problems. Perhaps they have had some successes, but they are not able to control it yet and there is still the major problem with tumors.
Also, unless alternative extraction are worked out (as you referred to) then cloning embryonic stem cells is pretty much the only option for their use (at least without the risk of rejection) and that brings up huge ethical problems since it would ultimately result in fetal farming (if they wanted to ensure that the cloned cells are not deformed or mutated).
If you have an article on the new methods of extracting stem cells I'd like to see it. I've just heard about it recently and I'd be interesting to see if it deals with some of the ethical issues of ESCR.
Blogger Dan, at 9:44 AM  
Well, there's the Harvard study I mentioned that involved the extraction of amniotic cells, and there's also the study from Advanced Cell Technology which involves the extraction of a single blastomere from an embryo, which does not destroy it (the extraction from a blastomere at this stage is commonly done with in vitro for genetic analysis and does not interfere with development), and the creation of cell lines from that. They're still studying if there are great differences between these cell lines and those from the typical destroyed embryos, but they initially seemed to be behaving the same. However, their research is greatly limited by ethics laws, as the cells used are not eligible for even animal implantation. Also, their embryos were not carried to term, so that still needs to be shown possible (though the identical in vitro procedure makes it seem all but definite).
Your concerns about research involving the growth into a uniform type aren't really applicable, seeing as most research (much of which has been successful) involving the implantation of embryonic stem cells involved the direct implantation of the embryonic cells rather than growing them into adult stem cells first.
Can you send me a study or something on the tumors coming from implanted stem cells? I can only seem to find things about cancer stem cells, which are something entirely different.
Blogger Brian G, at 1:13 PM  

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