Stem cell research. A hot topic in today’s day and age. It may seem a bit off topic for a blog like this, but it’s something I’ve been quite curious about as of late, and as we all know, curiosity is certainly a predominant trait in children. By the same token, certain stem cells — the embryonic kind — have the potential to actually become children. And in my exhaustive studies, I have found that children are also quite… childlike.
I heard a lady on the radio yesterday — a mother of a little girl with juvenile diabetes — espousing the importance of stem cell research. To be honest, I am a bit confused at the intensity of the debate. It seems like the big argument behind stem cell research is the potential to find cures for many diseases, including juvenile diabetes and Alzheimer’s. After a little research, I discovered that this potential is very real. But I also discovered there are actually four categories of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, embryonic germ cells, umbilical cord stem cells, and adult stem cells.
It seems that the debate is always swirling around the embryonic stem cell variety, so I was somewhat surprised to find the four different types. I was also surprised to find that no human being has ever been cured of a disease using embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells have already cured thousands of people and holds much greater promise than any other type. According to Tadeusz Pacholczyk (say that five times fast) a doctor of neuroscience:
This is in part because stem cells are part of the natural repair mechanisms of an adult body, while embryonic stem cells do not belong in an adult body (where they are likely to form tumors, and to be rejected as foreign tissue by the recipient). Rather, embryonic stem cells really belong only within in the specialized microenvironment of a rapidly growing embryo, which is a radically different setting from an adult body.
Another little myth I encountered was the idea that we could use embryonic stem cells to grow stand-alone kidneys or livers in petri dishes somewhere. The reality is not quite so simple. It requires that we create a clone of a human being, and then harvest the organs from him or her. Yikes. Seems a little like something out of a bad 21st century Frankenstein movie.
A lot of really good scientific information is out there, if you look for it. And yet I’m still left scratching my head. If adult cells have a proven track record for making people better, why all the hullabaloo about the embryonic incarnations? Why the big push for embryonic stem cell research when it clearly involves tinkering with life and has nowhere near the track record of the other types of stem cells anyway? Why all this talk about being “for” or “against” stem cell research? In my estimation, we should all be for it. But why aren’t the distinctions between the types of stem cells spelled out in the media? Is it because the media can’t resist the juiciness of pitting two sides against each other? Is it because an accurate distinction between the different types doesn’t fit nicely into a 30-second sound byte? And why do politians always feel the need to jump in and muddy the waters?
As is typically the case when you let your curiosity get the best of you, it’s easy to end up with more questions than when you began. One thing I know for sure. When it comes right down to the truth regarding “stem cell research”, the overwhelming majority of us are on the same team.
[tags]stem cells, stem cell research, embryonic stem cells, juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer’s[/tags]