What You Should Know About Embryonic Stem Cell Research

stem cells and diabetesIn 2000, just four years before his death, “Superman” actor Christopher Reeves wrote in TIME Magazine: “It is our responsibility to do everything possible to protect the quality of life of the present and future generations. A critical factor will be what we do with human embryonic stem cells.” He went on to note the potential for treating Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and spinal cord injuries like he had with a simple, basic embryonic stem cell; “the body’s repair kit.” While controversy proliferated during the George Bush presidency, millions suffered. Today, there is a more liberal policy regarding stem cell research funding.

“The likelihood of something going wrong is pretty high,” warns Arnold Kriegstein of UC San Francisco’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research. “Something like tumors are probably going to happen. This is an area where the risks are great. The public has to be prepared.” He points to a recent story of a teenage boy who traveled from Israel to Russia to undergo stem cell therapies only to find he had little more than a brand new brain tumor four years later. Embryonic stem cell research is far from perfect, Kriegstein admits, and it could take many years before taxpayers see a return on their $3 billion investment.

Even though $3 billion has been allocated for stem cell research funding, the cost of embryonic research is high. A human clinical trial, for instance, could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Nothing is more substantive than a successful human trial, of course, yet what if it doesn’t work, “We all want the same thing – we want to see regenerative medicine work,” said Bruce Conklin at the J. David Gladstone Institutes. “Although there’s $2 billion left to give out, that’s actually a very small amount of money. Now, if that’s all spent on clinical trials that don’t tell us anything because they don’t work, that’s a missed opportunity.”

Despite the limitations of the embryonic stem cell, there have been some significant discoveries in recent years. For instance, Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka found that adult stem cells could be transformed into pluripotent stem cells, which carry an infinite potential for transforming into other cells. It was also found that the human body tends to accept these new adult cells more than embryonic cells. The added significance is that an embryo needn’t be destroyed to advance science, which is what many pro-lifers had against this research.

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