Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stem Cells

Lately I have seen a lot of information in the news about stem cells. It seems like a lot of research is starting to make some new headway and gaining ground. Stem cells are cells that are able to replicate themselves through cell division and are able to make cells with special functions, like red blood cells. They are often thought of as a way to replenish or replace diseased cells. I found a lot of general information about stem cells .

When I was reading the news on CNN recently I came across a study currently underway with patients who suffer from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Researchers injected stem cells from an 8 week old fetus directly into the spine of a 60 year old man with ALS. There are plans to replicate this procedure with at least twelve patients. The injections were into the lumbar region of the spine since the first muscles affected are usually in the lower body. CNN did a really good job reporting on the study.

MSN had a story about looking for ways to grow stem cells without needing embryonic tissue. Stem cells are present in adults as well so researchers have started to use skin cells to grow stem cells. While they have had some success so far, these cells do not tend to live as long in the lab as ones obtained from embryos. This research sounds promising.

Taking my back to high school science classes I watched some videos on you tube like this one to get a better idea understanding of stem cells.

The New York Times also ran a very informative article about the legislation currently being used to govern the use of stem cells . This legislation is very informative.

Stem cell research seems so promising to people suffering from many disorders such as ALS, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and more. At the same time there are a lot of questions and ethical issues about the ways that stem cells are obtained. When I read the article on CNN the first time I somehow had in my head that they had taken the cells from the spine of an 8 week old baby which seemed cruel, when I looked back I saw it had been obtained from a fetus instead. As a mother my first thought was sadness for the baby that will never be. Now I have no idea why that fetus did not have the chance to grow to maturity, it could have been left over from fertility treatments, grown in a tube for the purpose of research, miscarried, or aborted. How do we weigh this issue? I can’t see there ever being a point when everyone will be happy with the way it is treated. The lives that can be made better and possibility improved in large ways for patients who are suffering and dying have to be balanced with the lives that did not get to be for one reason or another. A whole new can of worms is opened with this.

I would like to see more research done with cord blood, blood that can be obtained from the umbilical cord after birth. It can be obtained from the cord attached to the placenta and in no way takes anything away from the baby. While removing the cells from the embryo destroys the embryo taking cells from the cord after birth does not hurt anyone, neither the baby or the mother. While I was pregnant I received a lot of information about banking cord blood, but little about donating it. I asked numerous times and tried to find a way to donate it and eventually just gave up because everyone tries to steer you towards paying to have it banked. Why not harness the possibility of using cord blood as well as stem cells to look for cures and ways to improve the quality of life of people who are suffering?


  1. Are there any books on the subject that you might recommend someone read to learn more about the topic? After all, your blog is called "Books, Books, Everywhere!" Some of the ethical problems with stem cell research are addressed in Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" in case your readers might be interested in this and similar debates between science and religion.

  2. Jill, this is a well researched blog post about stem cells. Thank you for going to all this work to bring many sources together to review. And I appreciate you sharing your thoughtful conclusions at the end.

  3. AJ I'm not really sure about any books on the topic. I just read some articles online about the issue. I tend to like to relax with books and either go for fiction or biography, autobigraphy or memoirs if I choose non-fiction.

  4. Interesting article. I'm glad you didn't gloss over the ethical concerns. While I do think stem cells can be highly beneficent, I strongly feel we must keep looking for ways of using them that don't involve killing unborn life.