A Legitimate Use of Stem Cells, Research Paper Example
Words: 3194Research Paper
Nowadays, a problem of legitimate use of stem cells is largely discussed. Controversy regarding this issue has long history and does not seem to be over now. In order to decide whether stem cells use should be common practice or not one should know answers to some questions. What do political leaders think about this issue? What are stem cells? How are they used and what is controversial about their use?
The idea of stem cell therapy nowadays seems to be clear and common. But its simplicity is applicable only to the idea, but not to the practice. ‘It has been a long way from an idea to a functional and promising method for efficient, safe, and predictable everyday application in clinical practice’ (EmCell). Practice details are unnecessary to know, but the idea is worthy of brief exploration.
Madelon Finkel in her book ‘Truth, Lies, and Public Health’ defined and described stem cells in order to clarify the issue. She described these cells as different from others, as most cells are committed to becoming a certain type of cell, say, muscle or nerve. Stem cells are pluripotent, which means that they can differentiate into any type of body cell. Such versatility is very promising for researches and medical care. For example, human pluripotent stem cells can produce cells and tissue for transplantation; many diseases are claimed to be curable with stem cells (Finkel 56-57). Being injected in the tissue stem cells can find the place where restoration is needed and generate healthy tissue.
It is obvious that stem cells must be derived somehow. There are several sources of them, all having some controversial sides and some certain benefits.
Human zygote is a natural cell that is capable of dividing into any other type of cell found in the body. This capability to develop into any type of cell is called ‘totipotency’ (potentially all) (Finkel 57). After four or five days zygote becomes a blastocyst, and it is the main source of human stem cells. These cells are totipotent. Later, they divide and differentiate, and become multipotent (potentially many). Such multipotent cells are present even in an adult human body, though in very small quantities. They are of great importance for an organism as they produce tissues and help to recover them, but multipotent stem cells have ‘limited potential compared with pluripotent stem cells derived from embryos or fetal tissue’ (Finkel 57).
Another way to collect stem cells is to collect them from cord blood. It was discovered that cord blood contains totipotent stem cells, and their derivation does not involve human embryos. Cord blood registry claims that this procedure is an ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for parents to collect and preserve the stem cells from their baby’s umbilical cord blood for potential medical uses’ (CBR). Cord blood is collected immediately after the birth (after the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut), and it does not need mother or child being involved. Collecting cord blood is reported to be a simple, safe, quick, and painless procedure (CBR).
So with stem cells being so versatile it comes as no surprise that they are claimed to cure a lot of diseases: AIDS/HIV, type 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus, aplastic anemia, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative diseases of nervous system, inflammatory and cancer bowel diseases, to name but a few (EmCell). Cord Blood Registry has even longer list of diseases that can be cured by meant of stem cells therapy (about 90 diseases). All leading clinics provide very optimistic forecasts about all these diseases – even for those which were thought to be incurable.
Controversial point about restorative properties of stem cells is liability of these claims. Stephen Barrett, M.D., in his article ‘The Shady Side of Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy’ revised several websites and works of leading companies dealing with stem cells. He claimed to have questioned EmCell Clinic, Medra Inc., Beijing Xishan Institute for Neuroregeneration and Functional Recovery, Cord Blood Registry and some other clinics. Results of his work were summarized and did not approve any of aforementioned clinics (Barrett).
According to his article, stem cells centers failed to provide in-depth researches and trace patients after stem cell treatment. Namely, EmCell was accused of not answering all questions about their methodology, patient observation, of inability to provide scientific foundation of their methodology. The approach to injecting stem cells was also doubted in the article: ‘… injecting fetal stem cells into the abdomen and veins of patients – … it is similar to the therapy that has been offered in Mexico… those who visited these Mexican clinics have not shown any measurable benefit that we know of to date’ (Barrett). Suggestion of EmCell clinicians that amount of stem cells injected does not matter is ridiculous, as well as their conviction that stem cells are not perceived as foreign by the immune system. Both facts raise red flags and draw attention to the researches conducted by this clinic.
Another company, Medra, Inc., failed to take into consideration the fact that stem cells are usually suppressed by immune system – just like EmCell. Some investigation about leading doctor of the Medra, Inc. revealed unpleasant information about his past and dubious researches.
The Beijing Xishan Institute for Neuroregeneration and Functional Recovery in Beijing, China, was also thoroughly explored by Barrett. He noticed that this institute’s reports contained ‘no raw data, provided few details of the patients’ functional ability, did not compare the patients to untreated patients, and limited the patient evaluations to only 2 to 8 weeks after the operation’ (Barrett). To say more, some of their patients had significant complications after the stem cell treatment, and none of the interviewed patients showed objective evidence of improvement (Barrett).
To conclude this section, it is necessary to specify that situation is not that hopeless as it was described by Barrett, M.D. All aforementioned companies have articles on their sites providing brief information about their researches, patents and practice. Even those companies that were reported to neglect immunosuppression now show full awareness of this problem. Those who are going to use such services must certainly consult their physicians, who are in the know about situation in such clinics. In order to make stem cell treatment practice legitimate and common it is necessary to provide thorough information about stem cell therapy. People should know more about its nature and benefits, as well as of complications and controversy.
Stem cells use can cause effects too strong to be ignored. Reaction of immune system is one of them. Finkel clarified this issue in her book (Finkel 60). When some organ or material gets into blood or body, immune system attacks and tries to destroy organ or material. Usually, organs to be transplanted are carefully checked so as not to cause rejection. If everything else fails, immunosuppressive drugs are used to ‘switch off’ the immune system. Such types of immune suppression therapies can put paid to individual’ health and expose him to risk of infection. In stem cell therapies, a foreign body, though very small, is being transplanted into a human. ‘If the stem cell line is not a complete genetic match for the recipient, there will be an immune response that will reject the foreign stem cells. It is, therefore, of utmost importance to either have stem cells that will be a complete genetic match for the recipient, or have a sufficient number of unique stem cell lines available so that a near-perfect match can be made’ (Finkel 60). This is a field for further investigation.
One possibility for creating genetically identical stem cells is therapeutic cloning. It does not directly raise any controversial ethics questions, but its process does. And all ethics challenges are of great importance when it comes to such a delicate issue.
Ethics issues about therapeutic cloning are different from usual cloning. In order to get the human stem cell now it is necessary to destroy the embryo. Question whether an embryo has rights and moral aspects are the most common debates about stem cells use. Does an embryo possess a personality? Do embryonic stem cells represent a life? Do they have the same rights as living people? Can stem cells be called a tissue and be equal to all other tissues? The crucial point of these questions is a question of life and its beginning, and it has not been answered yet (Finkel 60).
There is a point of view that claims that embryo is living, because it grows; it is human because it has human DNA; living human is person so embryo is a person. But it is essential to understand that embryos which are used to get stem cells are not equal to embryos implanted in vivo in woman’s uterus. As specified above, embryos are extracted as blastocysts that have no differentiated cells. They are like any other biological group of eight cells. The only way to think about such embryo as of living human is to think that it is not dead and it is not bovine. But in that case all cells in human body can be considered as human beings: they are not dead and they are not bovine. Does liver cell possess human personhood? So arguments that are based on such speculations are quite biased and imply more elusive sophistic expressions. It is a field day for Christian and other religious authorities being dissatisfied with moral side of stem cells use (Gilgoff).
Growing of the embryo is also an obscure statement as many cells can divide and reproduce themselves. We never think of a seed as of future sunflower, and never think of sperm as of crowd of potential human beings. Loss of one seed is not equal to loss of the whole plant. The link between seeds and flowers or embryos and human beings is obvious and undoubted, but we should not mistake seeds for flowers, as well as embryos for living persons. So this ethical challenge is more a question of individual convictions and needs just logical and consistent approach.
To avoid controversy a benign method of extracting stem cells must be invented. It is highly likely that such method will eliminate all debates and in the long run lead to common approval.
Now there are two rather promising methods. One includes a zygote use: ‘since two days after the meeting of the sperm and the egg an embryo consists of only eight cells, by using special techniques, it is possible to remove a single cell while allowing the remaining cells to develop into a human being’ (Finkel 66). Thus the embryo suffers minimal losses.
Other alternative method for deriving stem cells and developing their lines without destruction of an embryo is alternative nuclear transfer. It underlies creating a modified cell that cannot develop into human. So, a cell that cannot be a human cannot possess personhood and thus the supporters of moral restrictions will be satisfied.
Response to the invention of the alternative methods was quite controversial and unclear. Some people said that it is not enough, but surely a step forward. Others find more ethical issues and continue debates. A method that implies deriving one cell of eight is humanistic enough, as this procedure is widely used to check the embryo for genetic diseases. This approach does not harm an embryo. Would the technique which involves safe stem cell derivation satisfy those who deem it unethical to remove a cell just for research? Is life being destroyed by this procedure? Can one stem cell develop into new organism?
All these questions are quite difficult argue about, though now it is known that a single stem cell that was derived on the eight-cell stage cannot produce life. And for those who think that it is unethical to use stem cells it might be useful to learn more about this practice, its benefits and research results.
Another ethical problem is that stem cell researches need many human eggs to produce a single stem cell line genetically identical to recipient cells. Cloning procedure is used to develop a cell line. Therapeutic cloning is rather expensive and time-consuming task. It seems that only one egg is needed to develop a stem cell line. But it is a superficial view. Even with modern technologies only one percent of cells become stem cell lines when injected with new genetic information. So, hundreds of eggs are needed for a single line. And each egg must be donated by a woman who does not object to the painful procedure of egg harvesting. It is still a problem as this way is the most simple (Finkel 60).
A problem of genetic identity can be solved by cord blood banking and collection of stem cells from the cord blood. Banking of the newborn’s stem cells guarantees that the newborn’s sample will be saved for the family members to treat life-threatening diseases (CBR). It is also a great possibility for the newborn to save his or her stem cells in order to ensure his future health. Such procedure is available in many hospitals around the country and easily accessible at the request of the physician.
To ensure legitimacy of the stem cells use it is necessary to ensure that Americans support it and there is a necessity for such methodology in the country.
Stem cell researches question was raised in 2001, when George W. Bush restricted government funding of stem cells researches. Scientists were left to their own devices and could only rely on private donations.
But on March 9, 2009 President Obama signed an executive order that lifted restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Gilgoff in his article ‘Obama’s Stem Cell Order Reopens the Culture Wars’ expressed an opinion that President plunged into the culture wars by signing this order. Obama’s order did not specify which stem cell lines could be used, but gave the National Institutes of Health 120 days to develop new rules (Gilgoff).
President Obama said about this order that his administration is going to rely on facts while making scientific decisions, but not on ideology. He insisted that what they were going to do was not making false choice, but easing human suffering. “People have come to a consensus that if nobody wants these frozen embryos, they should be used in research. People believe that embryos are not people” (Gligoff) – this is a citation of Arthur Caplan’s words, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
There are some unclear points about this order, and they leave the question opened. For example, Obama did not clarify whether the funds should be spent on creating of new embryos or researchers should rely on embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics.
Gligoff reported that public support was solid and predicated on hopes that the research could find cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. March and February Gallup Polls showed that majority of Americans support the embryo stem cell researches in some way or other. Public support is vital for legitimating such a controversial question. And the results were rather positive.
Lymari Morales in the Gallup article ‘Majority of Americans Likely Support Stem Cell Decision’ published the statistics data concerning stem cells researches. Question ‘What would you prefer the government to do with embryonic stem cells research funding?’ (it had been asked before Obama’s order) had the next answers: no restrictions – 14 percent of respondents, ease current restrictions – 38 percent, keep current funding – 22 percent, and no funds at all – 19 percent. Majority of respondents reported to have supported ease of Bush’s restrictions. It is worth saying that such rates have been rather stable through last several years, thus backing the decision of Obama’s administration (Morales).
Americans tend to support some kind of government funding for embryonic stem cell research – Gallup’s May 2008 update on values and beliefs found out that 62% of Americans deem ‘medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos morally acceptable while 30% said it is morally wrong’ (Morales). So two thirds of respondents showed openness to legitimating of embryonic stem cell research and it was enough to back up the important decision.
Religious aspects that were involved in the decision making were not neglected. Though Catholic and Evangelical Churches insist that their members are strongly against stem cells use, current polls show another situation. Though embryo stem cells researches are frequently associated with abortion, Catholics and Non-Catholics have equally different opinions about these subjects. While abortion is supported by only 40 percent of Americans, stem cells research is morally accepted by 62 percent of either Catholic, or Non-Catholic Americans.
Obama’s order raised ethical debate even though it was rather reasonable. Some people fear that embryonic stem cell research will be expected to yield the breakthroughs (Gligoff) despite the fact that it has been largely researched. It may look like inability to fulfill public expectations but in fact the results of newly launched researches will just be not as notable as they are expected to be. Opponents of this decision may start political battle over this issue once it will become clear that no significant inventions have been made.
Current situation is rather favorable for stem cells use. But in order to provide wide adoption of the idea of legitimate use of stem cells some work should be bone.
Lots of diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are now reported to be curable. Though few clinics do in fact provide liable stem cells therapy now, the idea gives hope to many people who suffer from these diseases. The list of potentially curable diseases is rather long and promising, so the main goal of government is to support the researches targeted at curative properties of stem cells.
As there is still some controversy about stem cells it is essential that government provides true and accurate information about stem cells, their derivation, principles of action, possible applications and benefits. It is likely that many people have their convictions formed by biased views of convicted religious or other leaders. Providing people with information will lead do deeper understanding of the core of the problem and probably will increase even more quantity of stem cells use supporters.
The same applies to ethical challenges; information provided to people can make this issue not only the theme of political debate, but also for general consideration.
The idea of stem cell use for restorative purposes is great in itself. It is an area for investigations as it promises great perspectives to incurable patients. Stem cells researches have now a support of the government, and it is a step forward in right direction. Stem cells use is a part of future medicine, future technology, and the more we research on this issue now the more quickly we will get decent basics for this medicine and technology.
Barrett, Stephen. “The Shady Side of Embryonic Stem Cell therapy” Quackwatch. February 17, 2009 <http://www.quackwatch.org/06ResearchProjects/stemcell.html>
Gilgoff, Dan “Obama’s Stem Cell Order Reopens the Culture Wars. Conservative Christians are looking for an opening to challenge embryonic stem cell research” U. S. News and World Report. March 19, 2009. April 23,2009. <http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/religion/2009/03/19/obamas-stem-cell-order-reopens-the-culture-wars.html>
Finkel, Madelon L. Truth, lies, and public health. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.
Morales, Limary. “Majority of Americans Likely Support Stem Cell Decision” Gallup. March 9, 2009 <http://www.gallup.com/poll/116485/Majority-Americans-Likely-Support-Stem-Cell-Decision.aspx>
‘List of diseases’ EmCell 2009. April 23, 2009. <http://www.emcell.com/en/diseases/index.html>
‘What is Cord Blood?’ Cord Blood Registry. 2009. April 23, 2009 <http://www.cordblood.com/cord_blood_banking_with_cbr/what_is_cord_blood.asp>
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