Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama lifts ban on stem cell research funding!

Yesterday, President Obama reversed a 2001 Bush ruling that prohibited the use of federal funds to support embryonic stem cell research. Even in these times of economic woe, stem cell scientists believe that there is enough money ready to be distributed that this reversal will have immediate impacts.

As you are probably aware, embryonic stem cell research has been controversial because it requires that human embryos (at a VERY early age of development) be destroyed. The right wing of the Republican Party, along with the "Moral Majority" have opposed this research because they say it promotes abortion. In truth, the embryos used for stem cell research have and will come primarily from fertility clinics, where non-implanted embryos are literally thrown into the trash.

The reason that stem cell researchers use these embryos that are in extremely early stages of development is that, as you'll recall from last semester, for the first few cell divisions that occur after a zygote is produced, all cells are identical - no differentiation has taken place. These cells are "pluripotent," meaning that they have the ability to differentiate into ANY kind of cell, depending on their local environment. Thus, embryonic stem cells can theoretically be placed into the spinal tissue of someone whose spine has been severely injured and they will be triggered to grow into new nervous tissue. There are other types of stem cells in the body, some of which can be "induced" to become pluripotent. Umbilical cord stem cells are also a potential source of puripotent stem cells. Using "older" pluripotent cells of any of these types is problematic however, as they have accumulated enough genetic markers to be rejected by the immune system of a person receiving them.

The NIH (National Institute of Health) has a great website discussing yesterday's decision, along with a lot of additional info on the topic. Check it out! There are surely many careers in this area waiting out there!


Robbie Newell said...

I think this was a great use of Obama's political capital. Stem cells have a great potential to help a lot of people.
The whole "it will cause more abortions" argument is ridiculous. Besides the above stated reasons, people aren't going to go out of their way to get an abortion to give stem cells away.
I have also heard that stem cells can come from the placenta of babies after they are born. So, if it wasn't going to increase the number of abortions and have a chance to help people, why wouldnn't we do it?

Period3_Manasi said...

I completely respect and agree with Obama's decision to allow stem cell research to continue. I think that it's absurd that the embryos we could potentially use for a useful purpose are simply being thrown away. That's just wrong.
I think the most exciting thing about stem cells is that they would provide a better alternative to the transplant solution, which poses some problems. First, it takes forever to get your organ, and sometimes, you're way too old to even be considered a person with an option to get a transplant. So that basically means that if you have, say, kidney failure, you'll be hooked up to a dialysis machine at least 3 times a week. And then there's all the immune system issues with the transplant. One of my parents' friends has been ridiculously ill in the hospital because his body's rejecting his donor kidney.
I'm sure that stem cells will bring up their own issues, but right now, they could possibly solve many of the current problems with transplants.

Period6_Nairi said...

I also think Obama made a good decision in allowing stem cell research. To me, using an embryo in its early stage as a cure for severe problems is a perfectly legitamate action. I actually didn't know that many of these embryos were going to be trashed anyways, and I found that very interesting. I understand that using an embryo to repair cells would destroy a potential child,but saving people's lives is important too.

Period 7 Valentina said...

I am so happy that Obama desided to support stem cell research. I think the potential for it is huge. I agree with Manasi that its wrong to throw away a perfectly good resorces that could potentially safe people's lifes.

Period 7 Justin said...

I think Obama has engineered a smart political deal which satisfies both sides of the aisle - stem cell supporters finally get access to the materials they have lobbied years for, and conservatives are somewhat appeased by the fact that only embryos that are about to be trashed will be used in the research.

I think that many of the moral questions that are normally associated with the stem cell debate disappear when its biggest opponents are faced with the prospect of defending the useless discarding of unwanted embryos.