One of the most debated issues that have taken place in the modern era is that of Stem Cells. This debate has stretched far and wide and has reached nearly all Americans in one form or another, whether being affected by the potential first hand, or becoming involved through religion or other reasons.
Arguments arise not only about the effectiveness of the treatments, but also whether and how much funding the government should provide to a science which, until this week, required the “death” of an embryo. New research has brought the debate to the forefront yet again, this time with a new and unique twist.
The debate over embryonic stem cell research has typically focused on the loss of life associated with the typical extraction of stem cells. A procedure announced this week by a publicly traded company out of California, Advanced Cell Technology, hopes to avoid the question all together. The answer?
The study suggests removing single cells from 2-3 day old embryos and growing them into unique stem cell lines, allowing the embryo to survive in most cases. The key reason this research is being completed is due to the lack of government funding available to stem cell processes which destroy embryos.
This process may help stem cell research reconnect with main stream science. Up to this point, the use of stem sells has been associated with the loss of life, no matter how small. The use of this process may enable science to reconnect by using a process deemed acceptable by the general public.
Doubts still abound
Other scientists, experts, and religious groups have speculated that the inventive process may raise more questions than it answers. One of the biggest speculations of the new process, as is the case with many research processes, is about the destroyed embryos in its quest to eventually preserve them. This particular notion has struck a cord with many individuals and groups, particularly those affiliated with churches. Others contend that the process is not safe and may in fact pose a greater risk to embryos, no matter how small.
Inside the process
Dr. Robert Lanza, the lead author of the study, has utilized a process that has been familiar for years. Lanza’s method to yield stem cells, which was previously tested on mouse cells, is very similar to that of in vitro fertilization. Both processes require the removal of a single cell from a very young embryo, both by nearly the same methods.
The differences lie in what happens to the cell following it’s removal. Vitro fertilization uses the cell to test for problems with the embryo before it is transferred to the woman’s uterus. The stem cell process, on the other hand, allows the cell to divide and uses these newly created cells to develop new stem cell lines as well as for genetic diagnosis. The study used 91 unique embryo cells of which two developed into complete stem cell lines, a number which is very encouraging based upon it’s protection of human life.
Much is still unknown about the effects of the process on the embryo, particularly long term effects on the child. It is known that following the removal of cells, the embryo is able to heal itself. Questions arise when the effects of the healing on the young life are taken into account. All healing plays some effect on any life form, particularly a young life. These changes may be so minor that they are undetectable, and these are not the effects that worry scientists. Instead the changes may be major changes affecting nearly every aspect of the new life, a significant problem which will have to be studied in the future. Still other questions remain about the questions of whether the removed cell is able to grow into another embryo, or what would happen if the removed cell doesn’t divide.
Despite not completely quelling all ethical concerns regarding stem cell research, this study has gone a long way of easing concerns on a very touchy subject. Upon more research, this process may solve all the current questions we have with a very promising science.