Group 2 2014

Stem Cell Research Ethics

Abstract

Stem cell research is a highly controversial topic that is being debated in the international media, medical, and scientific fields. On one hand, stem cell research promises great medical benefits to many patients, especially those who are terminally ill. On the other hand, there is a lot of dilemma over the means of obtaining stem cells for treatments: from the embryo of an unborn child. However, there are new methods of obtaining stem cells that are out to end that controversy: Adult stem cells and pluripotent stem cells.

Formerly, it was believed that the only way to obtain stem cells was from human embryos. These stem cells are known as embryonic stem cells. Recently, researchers have looked into other ways of obtaining these “miracle” cells and have been successful.

We set out to analyze the differences in these new types of stem cells and determine if these new discoveries have the ability to end the stem cell controversy. We researched a multitude of reliable resources to write an article that is both educational and informative regarding the new types of stem cell research, and to show that these new types of stem cell research will end the controversies currently surrounding them.

We have come to the ultimate conclusion that both adult stem cells and pluripotent stem cells will end the ethical/moral controversy once and for all. They do not involve the subject of abortion as embryonic stem cells do, and are considered acceptable by religiously oriented organizations and communities, which are the groups who most oppose embryonic stem cell usage.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are biological healers. They are nature’s repair kits for damaged cells in our bodies. Stem cells have the unique ability to divide and transform from an undifferentiated cell to a differentiated cell that it is placed next to. What this means is that these stem cells could potentially be used to heal people who have organ or tissue damage by placing these cells in the damaged area, then allowing the cells to differentiate and become new organ and tissue cells (“Adult Stem Cells”).

This discovery offers numerous medical applications that can help heal patients who have experienced trauma or even those who have damaged cells from cancer and various cancer treatments.

Adult stem cells are currently being studied as an alternative to embryonic stem cells. These adult stem cells can commonly be found in red bone marrow. These are known as hematopoietic stem cells. These stem cells help replace old blood cells in the body (“Adult Stem Cells”).

Along with these adult stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells are also being studied. These are programmable stem cells pioneered by Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John Gurdon who received the Nobel Prize for their work in 2012. These cells are a major discovery because they can propagate and split indefinitely (“Adult Stem Cells”).

Stem Cell Controversy

There are many people who oppose the growing movement of the use of both adult stem cells instead of the classic embryonic stem cell. These researchers and scientists support embryonic stem cells because of their ‘pluripotent’ quality, something that sets them apart from more developed adult stem cells. Pluripotent cells have an exceptional quality to develop into any of the many different types of cells in the human body, not just a replacement for a specific type (heart, lung, bone, skin, marrow etc). The most popular form of application is the introduction of these cells into cancerous or other terminally ill patients. Pluripotent cells are essentially a blank slate to which any new cellular information may be copied. While adult stem cells are good, researchers and scientists agree around the world that the embryonic cells are much better in quality and application status than their adult stem cell counterparts.

The newest introduction of induced pluripotent adult stem cells seem to satisfy a happy medium between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. These pluripotent cells are able to be produced in the laboratory from existing adult stem cells using incredible new and exciting scientific methods. With these newly developed cells, it is innumerable the lives that can be saved and the qualities of lives that may be improved. While everyone may not know it, people don’t look very far into their family and friend circles before they realize that someone close to them has some connection to this type of research, and the importance instantly increases in both size and sincerity.

A great advantage of embryonic stem cells over adult stem cells is the ability to be grown and replicated in the laboratory. Embryonic cells are newer, fresher, and more pliable than their adult counterparts. Scientists and researchers value this incredible quality of adaptability as the embryonic cells offer more options and applications for therapeutic and research opportunities. For example, they are able to extrapolate more than double the amount of usable cells from a embryonic stem cell sample than and adult stem cell sample of the same size. The future applications of stem cells can not be viewed at this time, but can be imagined to be one of the most explosive and incredibly useful scientific advancements of the modern era. New companies in countries all over the world have developed a new program in which patients can have a sample of their cells taken from their body (or a few samples) and have these cells specially frozen until they need them. This new application will be widely popular among everyone, especially those who wish to look ‘forever young’. However, this new technology is not only be limited to a cosmetic application. If someone were to have all the necessary cells sampled, it is conceivable that the human life could be irrationally extended to far beyond the normal lifespan. The only thing preventing people from living forever is the brain. The stem cell technology at this time is not great enough to successfully reproduce and repair brain cells without having a negative impact on the brain. While it can be seen that stem cells have helped many lives and the advancement of science and technology in this area, scientists and researchers have much more work to complete.

The media reactions range in size of attention and opinion. The conservatives and liberals have opposite opinions as they do about most everything. Conservatives and religious types argue that while these treatments are much better than the ‘murder’ involved in embryonic treatments, they still seem to defy God’s laws and the natural order of repair and death in human laws. Fox News and other conservative news shows have given their undisputed opinion over this topic. Despite these widespread feelings and media reactions, there has been extreme efforts and religious funding to support adult stem cell research above embryonic stem cell research. The push for these new stem cells is incredible. There are new guidelines by the government that allocate funds to the research and development of adult stem cell technology. Naturally, there are some that see this as a waste and disagree with the use of taxpayer dollars to ‘subsidize the destruction of precious human life’. It seems that not only those with direct connections to the treatment and technology for themselves and the family members care about these new stem cells, but everyone who has a foot in the modern world has a full and wondrous understanding for the human need for life and a joyful hope for the future.

End of the Stem Cell Controversy

Using adult stem cells in research is not seen as largely controversial because producing adult stem cells does not require the destruction of an embryo or a life—they are merely taken from a living adult human, which is not detrimental to the person’s health. Adult stem cells have both commonalities and differences when compared with embryonic stem cells, which make them useful for certain types of research but not others. They are able to differentiate into more than one type of cell, which is incredibly useful for research. However, they are restricted to certain lineages, which can be problematic and challenging for researchers when they are attempting to culture up the large numbers of cells needed of a specific lineage for therapies (“Adult Stem Cell”). Although they can differentiate into more than one type of cell, adult stem cells can't differentiate into as many different types as embryonic stem cells can. They are also more likely to have developed genetic abnormalities over time due to an adult human’s aging process (Murnaghan, "Stem Cell Controversy").

Despite these challenges, adult stem cell treatments have been effectively used for years to treat bone and blood cancers. Adult stem cells are superior to embryonic stem cells when it comes to immune complications and the risk of rejection. In theory, healthy adult stem cells could be gathered from an individual needing some kind of treatment. They could then be cultured and reinserted back into the patient without fear of the body perceiving them negatively. Treatments performed using a person’s own cells eliminates the risk of rejection (Bohlin).

Despite the aforementioned limitations and differences, researchers can avoid the ethical debate and funding issues that occur due to religious issues by making use of adult stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells, which tends to end the ethical controversy. There has been an increase in funding over the past few years from religious groups to research using adult stem cells, particularly those groups that oppose embryonic stem cell research and hope to encourage a greater transition from embryonic cell to adult cell usage (Murnaghan, "Stem Cell Controversy").

Although a decade ago, embryonic stem cell research gained support from celebrities and political figures like Nancy Reagan and Michael J. Fox, it attracted even greater amounts of opposition. This opposition came primarily from religious figures and groups. This resistance led to rigid restrictions on federally funded stem cell research during the Bush administration, but these restrictions were later loosened when Obama came into office.

In contrast, adult stem cell research has been much more successful and less controversial than the history of embryonic stem cell research, even among religious leaders and communities. There were about “4,300 treatments based on adult stem cells which are now in clinical trials, and only 26 based on embryonic stem cells” at the time of this article’s publication in 2013, demonstrating a rise in the popularity of adult stem cell research (Speciale).

Several religions, such as Buddhism and Islam, have a conflict of beliefs among their religious scholars and communities regarding the ethics of embryonic stem cell research due to different interpretations of their religious principles. Some Buddhists believe that stem cell research aligns with the Buddhist belief of “seeking knowledge and ending human suffering,” while others argue that it violates the prominent principle of “not harming others.” Some Muslim leaders believe that stem cell research is ethical because Islam dictates that an embryo in the first trimester of pregnancy does not have a soul, while others dispute that terminating a pregnancy is unacceptable, no matter early it is. However, neither group of either religion expresses an oppositional view of adult stem cell research, as the use of adult stem cells that were willingly given to researchers does not violate any of their religious belief systems (“Religious Groups”).

Additionally, several religious groups have made statements of open support for adult stem cell research. In 2011, when the Pontifical Council for Culture launched collaboration with biopharmaceutical company NeoStem, the Vatican started promoting the use of adult stem cells for research purposes (Speciale). The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops openly expresses support for adult stem cell research but not embryonic stem cell research. All major Jewish denominations support adult stem cell research as long as it is for medical purposes. In 2005, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod expressed its opposition to embryonic stem cell research, encouraging adult stem cell use in research as an acceptable alternative. In 1999, the Southern Baptist Convention stated that it supports the development of treatments that do not require the destruction of human embryos, which is in accordance with adult stem cell research. In 2004, the United Methodist Church maintained its opposition to the use of embryonic stem cells for research, but did not oppose the use of adult stem cells (“Religious Groups”).

Conclusion

Since the idea for using stem cells has been around, there has been a major controversy in regards to whether or not embryonic stem cells are an ethical choice. This dilemma has had a major turn around with the development of using adult stem cells instead. Adult stem cells can be used and provide all of the same benefits of embryonic stem cells and they are also found to be much more favorable among the general public.

Adult stem cells are very important to the advancement of science and medicine and it is something that can be used to help preserve and save lives. These stem cells offer replacement cells that are a renewable resource and have already been found to treat a wide variety of cancers such as leukemia, and multiple myeloma. Adult stem cells have been proven to help in cardiac, pulmonary, vascular, and neurologic systems in the body. Adult stem cells are efficient enough give the possibility of being able to avoid having a heart transplant. They can reduce or even eliminate the need for supplemental oxygen (“Adult Stem Cell Therapy”). Adult stem cells can even be used to avoid amputation and the operations are minimally invasive and well tolerated. Adult stem cell development is truly something to be marveled at but it is still looked upon by some as not being as efficient at embryonic stem cells. This is why research and development of adult stem cells must continue and this can be progressed faster when this type of science is supported by the public. Adult stem cells hold a much higher ethical standing over embryonic cells which is will help in this progression

The ethics debate between whether not to use stem cells is one that has been going since the idea first came out. With that question however, one must wonder if the use of adult stem cells over embryonic ones can help to calm those who oppose their use. Adult stem cells are clearly the better option because it lays to rest many of the concerns brought upon by embryonic stem cells. The extraction of embryonic cells is a major concern. During this process is very easy to damage the embryo which is of great concern. With adult stem cells however, the cells are extracted from the patient most of the time and this process has little cause for alarm because it rare that this process will hurt the patient. If the embryo is harmed during the stem cell extraction, it also raises more questions in the area of abortion. While this is a different argument, it is possible for one to tie into the other which would cause even more controversy over the topic. Despite these ethical issues, embryonic cells still have much higher potential to be able to treat disease. This gives more reason as to why adult stem cells need to be further researched (Murnaghan, "Adult vs. Embryonic"). With doctors knowing the potential that stem cells have, it is important that they be able to develop the adult stem cells to have the same potential.

Adult stem cells hold another distinct advantage that embryonic stem cells do not. Since the adult cells come from the patient themselves, the body’s immune system is not affected by them at all. The cells are identified and isolated, and then grown and reintroduced back into the person’s body. Since the cells are already compatible with their body, they are not rejected. This is not the case with embryonic stem cells. With embryonic cells, the patient’s body would require more drugs to help to ensure that the immune system does not reject them. This increase in medication and drugs could very easily put the patient at a higher risk for something to go wrong (“Adult Stem Cells”). This is another reason why adult stem cells are a better choice over embryonic stem cells.

Adult stem cells help give people a second chance. When conventional methods of medicine fail or aren’t strong enough, stem cells area belt to give hope. They are a natural regenerative solution that replaces the body’s damaged tissue with the body’s own healthy cells. This process has limited side effects and it is a permanent treatment. Because the body uses its own stem cells, the body will accept the cells with no interface to the immune system. Clinical results from adult stem cells have proven results and the risks are small when compared with embryonic stem cells (“Adult Stem Cell Therapy”). Embryonic stem cells run high risk of damaging the embryo which is why Adult stem cells are a much more ethical choice.

Sources

Adult Stem Cell Therapy | Stem Cell Education | Adult Stem Cells | Repair Stem Cells |Improve Debilitating Conditions |Pulmonary | Regenocyte (866) 216-5710." Regenocyte. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2014. http://regenocyte.com/adult-stem-cell-therapy.html

"Adult Stem Cell." ScienceDaily: Your Source For the Latest Research News. ScienceDaily, 2014. Web. 03 July 2014.

"Adult Stem Cells." Advantages & Benefits of Research. Neo-Stem, n.d. Web. 02 July 2014. http://www.neostem.com/about/adult-stem-cells/

Bohlin, Ray. "The Controversy Over Stem Cell Research." Probe. Probe Ministries, 2001. Web. 03 July 2014.

Murnaghan, Ian. "Adult vs. Embryonic Stem Cells." Adult vs. Embryonic Stem Cells. N.p., 6 June 2014. Web. 04 July 2014.
http://www.explorestemcells.co.uk/adultvsembryonicstemcells.html

Murnaghan, Ian. "Stem Cell Controversy." Explore Stem Cells. N.p., 16 June 2014. Web. 03 July 2014.

"Religious Groups' Official Positions on Stem Cell Research." Pew Research Center. Religion and Public Life Project RSS, 17 July 2008. Web. 03 July 2014.

Speciale, Alessandro. "Vatican Gets Behind Adult Stem Cell Research." National Catholic Reporter. Religion News Service, 09 Apr. 2013. Web. 03 July 2014.


Prakash Sapkota

The article is pretty interesting in explaining the stem cells and its practical usage. I had zero knowledge on human stem cells and its healing power before I read this article. It’s good to know that adult stem cells help to differentiate undifferentiated cells and heal damaged part of our body system. The article is well organized and clear. I like the way it explains about possible research area of embryonic stem cell and its benefits to humans. I amazed to know that these cells can be utilize to cure cancers such as leukemia and other cardiovascular diseases. The manner of presentation on stem cell and its controversial research is well defined, however, there is not supportive explanation on ethical use of adult cell over embryonic cell. It would be better if the advantage of using adult stem cell over embryonic is clearly explained. Nevertheless, it was a great article. Great work!

Kaitlynn Gessner

The article is definitely interesting and caught my eye. As i read i was amazed to find about about all the possibilities that could be obtained through stem cell research. Though the research and background was great, sometimes i was forgetting which side was being argued for until the conclusion when everything kinda was put together. I also felt like there was a bit of a biased tone in the article and though you are arguing for a side showing proper respect to opposing sides is very important. With things like this you want to be taken seriously, so when talking about the other side careful wording is required. There were a few things that you could have gone into more detail with or left out completely. Like it is said that extending the natural human life span is irrational, but that left me thinking "why is it irrational?" Sadly, using strong words like that is something to avoid because it opens up "a new can of worms" per say. Also I felt like the organization could have been a bit better. Like maybe first talk about embryonic stem cell research, all of its components, and why are people for and against it. Then do the same with the other two forms of stem cell research and then compere and contrast the three. Then concluded which one is the best and why. I kinda cant feel if embryonic stem cell research was the better option but the ethics kept it from happening or that adult stem cells are the better option all the way around. Advantages were mentioned but do the disadvantages weigh out the advantages?? Overall it was a very interesting wiki article. And as i found out with my group writing with several people can tend to make it difficult to organize things. So other than the bit of disorganization which honestly i think is expected and the strong active words that open cans of worms, the article was great. Good job!!

Alex LePelch

I want to start off by saying this is a well thought out and thorough response on a great controversial topic. Stem cell research doesn’t cease to amaze me. As you mentioned, I think that stem cells are very important to the advancement of science and medicine, and the benefits seem to outweigh most if not all of the negatives. I think it is great that we have been able to move from embryonic stem cells to ones that are derived from adults, and I do believe this will help in settling the debate. One topic that I wish was expanded on in your article is the ethical issues concerning the “playing god” standpoint some have on the research. Some devout religious people oppose the idea of stem cell research because of their religious beliefs. In my opinion, if we are using the technology to help people, I think that it is morally okay to continue research but maybe some limits should be proposed.

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