What Are the
Established Guidelines for Conducting Stem Cell Research?
Is the Use of Embryonic
Stem Cell Research Legal?
What is a Stem Cell?
What is the future of stem cell research?
Are there alternative resources for stem cell
research without using human embryos?
Is it practical to use embryos in stem cell research?
What Results Are Coming from Non-Embryonic Stem
Is Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Popular Because
of Its Success Rate? NO...
Additional Reading on Stem Cell Research...
the Established Guidelines for Conducting Stem Cell Research?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued
new guidelines for stem cell research on August 23, 2000, that would
allow federal funding of research on stem cells that are removed from
human embryos, but would forbid research on the embryo itself. (see
National Institute of Health Guidelines for Research using Human Pluripotent
Stem Cells, August 25, 2000, [corrected November 21, 2000] http://www.nih.gov/news/stemcell/stemcellguidelines.htm
also see News and Events NIH http://www1.od.nih.gov/ormh/press_rel/stem_cell.html
The 1996 law that prevents embryo use "in research"
is circumvented by these new rules. Federal funding of any "research
in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly
subjected to risk or injury or death" is prohibited by law.
However, the guidelines do allow federal research
on cells that have been taken from surplus frozen embryos already
destined to be discarded by fertility clinics. The creation of an
oversight committee called the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Review
Group will ensure compliance with these guidelines.
Former President Clinton had taken a position
of support for stem cell research while in office. He said, "[stem
cells offer] potentially staggering benefits" for a wide variety of
President Bush said during his Presidential campaign
that he "would oppose federally funded research for experimentation
of embryonic stem cells that require live human embryos to be discarded
or destroyed," according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
on January 26, 2001. (1)
On February 28, 2001, HHS Secretary Thompson said
that the administration would decide by summer whether to allow controversial
stem cell research to proceed during his first year. (2)
Until that decision is reached, the Bush administration
has suspended those guidelines, saying it wanted to review the scientific
and ethical implications of the work.
However, evidence of the remarkable potential
of the adult stem cells has continued to mount as President Bush deliberates
over whether to allow federal funding for research on embryonic stem
Is the Use of Embryonic
Stem Cell Research Legal?
An assessment of destructive human embryonic stem-cell
research from a legal, ethical and scientific perspective’s was released
by the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. (3) The funding of
destructive human embryonic stem cell research is legally invalid,
scientifically questionable, and ethically unsound according to conclusions
of this analysis.
Clearly invalid legally is the federal funding
of destructive human embryo research. To object to the Department
of Health and Human Services ruling that seeks to bypass the congressional
ban of federal funding of destructive human embryo research, 70 members
of Congress, including the sponsor of the congressional ban - Representative
Jay Dickey, wrote to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna
E. Shalala: "Any NIH action to initiate funding of such research would
violate both the letter and spirit of the federal law banning federal
support for research in which human embryos are harmed or destroyed."
Presently, in virto fertilization (IVF)
clinics in the United States extract human stem cells from living
embryos through privately-funded research. The living embryos (so-called
"spares") are stored in fertility clinics awaiting implantation, after
having been conceived via in virto fertilization (IVF). IVF
clinics typically fertilize multiple eggs at once because embryos
conceived through IVF techniques often have defects that make them
unlikely to survive in the womb. The so called "spares" are available
if embryos introduced to the mothers’ womb do not develop, or if additional
children are desired later. Until further disposition on decisions
are made, these "spares" are stored frozen.
However, this "supply" will probably prove insufficient
for experimental needs if destructive human embryo stem-cell research
continues. These embryos may also be ineffective for precision research
and may be insufficient in number to meet the experimental demand.
Furthermore, the embryonic stem cells may cause an immunological rejection
by recipients, thus hampering the use of embryonic stem cells.
Likely to be medically more beneficial than their
embryonic counterparts are non-embryonic human stem cells. The developments
are summarized by the British Medical Journal:
This finding raises the possibility that adult
human stem cells may some day be coached to grow into organs, regenerate
damaged tissue, or reconstitute the immune system. The problem of
immune rejection may also be circumvented if an individual’s own cells
can be used. It also means that the need for fetal cells as a source
of stem cells for medical research may soon be eclipsed by the more
readily available and less controversial adult stem cells. (5)
What is a Stem Cell?
There are four different types of stem cells that
are identified by the way in which they form into particular types
of cells. These four types of stem cells are as follows: Totipotent
stem cells, Pluripotent stem cells, Multipotent stem cells and Adult
Totipotent Stem Cells
A one-celled fertilized egg is formed when a sperm
cell and egg cell unite. This is a totipotent cell. This form of stem
cell has the potential to give rise to any and all human cells like
heart, brain, blood, and liver cells. In embryonic development, more
totipotent cells are produced in the first few cell divisions. The
cells start to specialize after four days of embryonic cell division.
Pluripotent Stem Cells
The ball of dividing cells forms itself into an
outer layer, which will become the placenta, and an inner mass which
will form the tissues of the developing human body on the fourth day
of embryonic development. When missing the outer layer, those inner
cells would not be able to form into almost any human tissue; but
with the outer layer, they can. They are pluripotent and not totipotent.
These pluripotent stem cells start to specialize
further as they continue to divide.
Multipotent Stem Cells
The progenitors of such cell lines as nerve, skin,
and blood cells are the offspring of the pluripotent cells. They are
multipotent at this stage in that within a given organ, they can become
one of a general cell types. For example, multipotent blood stem cells
can develop into platelets, white blood cells, or red blood cells.
Adult Stem Cells
In adult humans, scientists have identified multipotent
stem cells that are used to replace cells that have died or lost function
in recent years. In adults, stem cells have been identified, for example,
in blood cells and nerve cells. Stem cells exist in other cell lines
according to speculation by researchers.
At least in cell cultures, stem cells are cells
that have the ability to divide forever. They can also develop into
specialized populations of cells. In developing embryos, there are
stem cells. And in adult humans, scientists have confirmed the existence
of stem cells in recent years.
In fact, stem cells play a key factor in replacing
worn and damaged mature cells in adults. Scientists assumed they exist
prior to 1998 when the first stem cells were actually identified.
Researchers cited bone marrow transplants as evidence for their existence.
Chemotherapy destroyed all of the cells of bone marrow in the treatment
of certain cancers. From healthy donors, that treatment was followed
by transplants of bone marrow. Eventually, enough cells resulted from
the small volume of transplanted bone marrow to allow the cells to
repopulate the body with red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
What is the future of
stem cell research?
Regardless of what politicians decide regarding
the federal government's involvement in stem cell research, the scientific
community's experimentation on stem cells has come too far to be discontinued
according to biochemists, physicians and other scientists doing embryonic
stem cell research. Furthermore, statements by supporters that blocking
federal funding for frozen embryonic research will result in the loss
of the phenomenal life-saving promise of the cells are untrue. It
is generally understood in the scientific community that such work
will mainly be supported by biotechnology companies that expect their
new therapies to generate substantial profits. Academic scientists
will gravitate to company laboratories if these companies provide
sufficient funding for research.
Are there alternative
resources for stem cell research without using human embryos?
Several research populations can be used to harvest
human stem cells from adults with no harm to the donor. Rich sources
of stem cells are also found in placentas and human umbilical cord
blood cells. Also, theoretically possible, although the techniques
currently do not exist, is the harmless extraction of stem cells from
Is it practical to
use embryos in stem cell research?
Admitted by even its most ardent supporters, there
are two big practical barriers to the use of embryos in stem cell
1. Embryonic "donors" tissue is incompatible
2. To develop the therapies from embryonic stem
cells, the length of the development process required may be years
or even decades.
What Results Are Coming
from Non-Embryonic Stem Cell Research?
Major breakthroughs with adult stem cells have
been demonstrated for several years. The distinct advantage of adult
stem cells is that individuals can use their own cells to regenerate
tissue. This procedure totally circumvents the problem of embryonic
stem cell immune rejection.
Eighty-five percent of the patients showed beneficial
results within six months in a recent study of 562 leukemia patients
treated with placental blood containing hematopoietic stem cells.
Through adult stem cell therapy, a sickle-cell
disease patient demonstrated evidence of having been cured. (7)
Also, clinical trials are being conducted for
AIDS therapies using patients' own blood stem cells. (8)
Currently in progress is the testing of a patient's
own brain stem cells to produce dopamine for treatment of Parkinson's
disease — called an "autologous transplant," the procedure allows
the patient to act as both donor and recipient. Some of the advantages
of this study — advantages that not only apply to this case but also
in general to non-embryonic stem cells — were described by the researcher
Michel Levesque, director of the Neuro-functional Surgery Center at
the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where the treatment
is being tested. "What we have is a protocol in which we don't have
to harvest 12 to 15 fetuses, we don't have to give immuno-suppressant
therapy and we don't have to worry about viral disease transmission.
Is Embryonic Stem Cell
Therapy Popular Because of Its Success Rate? NO...
Researchers reported that implanting cells from
aborted fetuses into patients' brains to treat Parkinson's disease
not only failed to demonstrate an overall benefit but also, revealed
a disastrous side effect in a carefully controlled study. (10) see
The cells apparently grew too well, producing
too much of a chemical that controls movement causing the patients
to writhe and jerk uncontrollably in about 15 percent of the patients
Six patients who enrolled in the study but who
have not yet had the implantation operation have decided to forgo
it on the researchers' advice.
In some younger patients, the transplant brought
on serious side effects and in older patients, the operation was not
beneficial according to the outcome of the study.
Absolutely devastating were the uncontrollable
movements some patients suffered noted one researcher.
Dr. Greene, a neurologist at the Columbia University
College of Physicians and Surgeons and a researcher in the study said,
"They chew constantly, their fingers go up and down, their wrists
flex and distend." He further noted that patients fling their arms
about, writhe and twist, and jerk their heads.
Dr. Green added, "It was tragic, catastrophic.
It's a real nightmare. And we can't selectively turn it off." One
man was affected so badly that he had to use a feeding tube because
he could no longer eat. Throughout the day, the condition came and
went unpredictably and the man's speech was unintelligible.
Scientists have learned that mice cloned from
embryonic stem cells may look identical; however, by harboring unique
genetic abnormalities, many of them actually differ from one another.
To help explain why so many clones do not survive
to birth is the presence of those subtle and previously undetected
Scientists may face unexplained challenges as
they try to turn the controversial cells into treatment for various
degenerative conditions if the same is true for human embryonic stem
cells said researchers.
Destructive embryonic stem cell research is immoral
and unnecessary. Researchers should explore adult stem cell research.
Major breakthroughs with adult stem cells have been demonstrated for
the last two years. The distinct advantage of adult stem cells is
that individuals can use their own cells to regenerate tissue. This
procedure totally circumvents the problem of embryonic stem cell immune
Additional Reading on
Stem Cell Research...
1. Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells Differentiate
in the Lab http://www.the-scientist.com/yr1999/apr/lewis_p1_990412.html
2. Umbilical Cord Cell Could Create Heart Bypasses
3. Stem Cells not Bound to Become Any Cell Type
4. Scientists Clear Ethical Barrier http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/RTGAMArticleHTMLTemplate/D/20010130/wcell3001?tf=RT/fullstory.html&cf=RT/config-neutral&slug=wcell3001&date=20010130&archive=RTGAM&site=Front
5. Scientists Get Liver Cells from Blood http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_720000/720579.stm
6. New Alchemy: Bone and Cartilage From a Snippet
of Skin http://nytimes.com/library/national/science/health/062000hth-body-skin.html
7. Tissue Grown in Lab Reverses Damage to Eyes
8. Turning Blood into Brain: New Studies Suggest
Bone Marrow Stem Cells Can Develop into Neurons in Living Animals
9. Awakening Neurons Without Transplanting Stem
10. Stem Cells 'Improve Stroke Recovery' http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_1264000/1264347.stm
11. Fat Is A Good Source of Stem Cells http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/10/health/10STEM.html?pagewanted=print
12. Company Says It Can Derive Stem Cells from
the Placenta http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/12/health/12STEM.html?pagewanted=print
13. Umbilical Cord Blood Cells Are Potential Sources
of Universal Brain Repair Tissue
14. Researchers Discover in Bone Marrow An Adult
Stem Cell That Can Transform Itself into Almost Any Organ in the Body
15. The Potential of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells
16. Clone Study Casts Doubt on Stem Cells http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A23967-2001Jul5.html
17. Cells, Fetuses, and Logic. Who is being sentimental,
who rational, in this debate? http://www.nationalreview.com/23jul01/ponnuruprint072301.html
18. Blowing Smoke on Stem-Cell Research. Anything
but the truth. http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-smith071201.shtml
19. Embryonic Stem Cell Research Can't Be Justified
20. Stem-Cell Pioneers Scold Overly Optimistic
21. Adult stem cell talents grow http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99991068
1 Ron Fournier, " Bush Won't Fund Stem Cell Research,"
The Associated Press, January 26, 2001
2 Marlene Cimons, "Stem Cell Study Decision Due
by Summer," Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2001
3 "On Human Embryos and Stem Cell Research: An
Appeal for Legally and Ethically Responsible Science and Public Policy,"
for Bioethics and Human Dignity, Bannockburn, IL (http://www.cbhd.org/)
4 Letter to Donna E. Shalala, Secretary of Health
and Human Services, cited by Rick Weiss in "Federal Embryo Research
is Backed," The Washington Post, May 23, 1999
5 Debora Josefson," Adult stem cells may be re-definable,"
British Medical Journal 318 (January 30, 1999): 282.
6 Pablo Rubenstein, et. al, "Outcomes Among 562
Recipients of Placental-Blood Transplants from Unrelated Donors,"
The New England Journal of Medicine 239, No. 22 (November 26, 1998):
7 Patricia Guthrie, "Stem Cell transplant eliminates
all traces of sickle-cell in teen patient," The San Diego Tribune,
June 8, 1999
8 Laura Johannes, "Adult Stem Cells Have Advantage
Battling Disease," The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 1999
9 Mark Moran, "For cell transplants, is one brain
better than two? American Medical News, May 3, 1999, p. 29; also see:
10 Curt R. Freed, et.al, "Transplantation of Embryonic
Dopamine Neurons for Severe Parkinson's Disease, "The New England
Journal of Medicine 344, No. 10 (March 8) 710-719
11 David Humphreys, Kevin Eggan, Hidenori Akutsu,
Konrad Hochedlinger, William M. Rideout, III, Detlev Biniszkiewicz,
Ryuzo Yanagimachi and Rudolf Jaenisch, "Epigenetic Instability in
ES Cells and Cloned Mice," Science, July 6, 2001: 95-97
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