Stem Cell Research: Politics or Medicine?
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, last Friday, overturned a ban on the tax-payer funding of embryonic stem cell research. A district judge's earlier order temporarily blocked federal funds from being used for embryonic stem cell studies. That does not mean, however, that there is, or has been, a general ban on the research itself.
Stem cell research is one of those untidy issues where the boundaries between politics and science are blurred and rhetorical arguments that reach the ears of an interested public don't necessarily tell the full story. The fiery debate over whether or not tax-payer dollars should be used in research that, to many, requires the destruction of human life, has eclipsed the more basic questions surrounding stem cell research. For starters: Have embryonic stem cells been used in the successful treatment of disease?
Stem cells from human embryos have been studied since 1998. Most studies have been privately funded and the research is ongoing. Nevertheless there is no conclusive proof that embryonic stem cells have successfully treated human disease. Various internet resources and journal articles addressing embryonic stem cells use words like "potential," "promise," and "research in its early stages." The truth is that not a single treatment nor cure for human illness has come from embryonic stem cells.
Stem cells from adults have been studied for decades. The most well known of such therapies is the "bone marrow transplant." Adult stem cells are harvested from a tissue-matched donor or from the patient, and have been used in the treatment of autoimmune disease, anemia, leukemia, cancers, diabetes, Crohn's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Symptoms of Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries have improved in some patients who have received adult stem cell therapy.Continued on the next page