The controversy that surrounds embryonic stem cell research has varied angles to it, chief among them being the ethical and moral values attached to it. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, stringent policies were framed in 2001 regarding limited research in this field.
President Bush allowed research on only 21 'stem cell lines' that were produced before he took over charge as the US president. The scientific and public community was left in rage, as it saw the end of further growth in the stem cells research.
In 2009, President Barack Obama lifted the federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell research, making it a historic moment in the American medical research fraternity. Here's more on it.
A Long Standing Debate
The debate on embryonic stem cell research has been in existence since decades. In the era of President Bush, it was only the federal aided researches that were banned.
In fact, mega corporations continued there researches and went on to produce thousands of stem cell lines. That is why debate on embryonic stem cell research needs to handle some difficult moral, ethical, scientific and technical questions related to it.
Also known as master cells, stem cells are the chief sources of other specialized cells in the body. Under right sets of condition, be it in the human body or in vitro, stem cells have the ability to divide and form other daughter stem cells. Stem cells have two unique and extremely beneficial properties.
Firstly, they have the ability to differentiate into different types of body cells, called differentiation, which is a remarkable characteristic in itself. Secondly, they can regenerate to form more daughter stem cells (termed as self-regeneration).
When a sample of stem cells is left to multiply for many days, it forms a series of many stem cells, called "stem cell lines". The uniqueness of stem cells comes from the fact that they have the natural ability to multiply and form different body cells, with specific functions.
Stem cells that are obtained from embryos are called embryonic stem cells. During the early stages of development of an embryonic cell, i.e. when it is four to five days old, it is called 'blastocyst'. These cells multiply many times and have a great potential for medical breakthrough in treating several diseases.
Some other sources of stem cells are adult stem cells, that are usually found in the bone marrow. For a long time, medical community believed that adult stem cells are less versatile than embryonic stem cells.
However, recent years have seen a change in such views, as scientists are discovering more secrets of adult stem cells. Using the technique of nuclear reprogramming, scientists have found a way to convert adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells, making a great platform for path-breaking results in the future.
In human beings, when a woman's egg is fertilized by sperms, embryos are formed in the earliest stages of fertilization. Extracting stem cells from embryo kills it and that raises many ethical questions regarding the research of stem cells.
Stem cells, in the earlier stages of its research were obtained from aborted fetuses and from embryos in the In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) within six days of insemination. If embryos that are developed through IVF are not required anymore by women opting for it, it is stored properly and donated for research purposes.
For people who believe that life begins at conception, or just at the formation of embryo, it is inhumane to kill blastocyst in embryonic cells for obtaining stem cells. Many people are of the view that stem cells may be extracted from dead fetuses or from other parts of the body like bone marrow and skin.
While research is going on in this field, extracting stem cells from skin or bone marrow, is quite a difficult procedure as compared to the ease of obtaining stem cells from embryos.
The debate on embryonic cell research has been one of the hottest topics in the international media in the recent few years. While some say that man must not try to become 'God', it is assumed that scientists and medical experts are all gung ho about the ability of stem cells to replace degenerated body parts.
Regarded to be the 'holy grail of modern medicine', embryonic stem cells have the tremendous potential to heal chronic diseases. It has been proved through several medical studies that embryonic stem cells are versatile and they have the maximum potential to form other specific cells like blood cells, nerve cells, heart muscles and other tissues.
One of the biggest advantages of stem cell research, especially that of the embryos is associated to its relevance in medical research. By knowing, understanding and documenting growth of stem cells, vital information regarding human growth can be understood.
Stem cells may prove beneficial in curing Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis and variety of chronic diseases. The embryonic stem cells can also be used to test the effectiveness of new drugs. Instead of testing any new drug on human beings, it will be helpful to predict its effects on the humans by testing them on the stem cells.
From many parts of the world, successful use of stem cells in certain diseases is gradually coming into news and people are willing to go for this magical treatment. After all, if the replacement of cells can help an individual to get rid of a deadly disease, who won't go for it?
High cost of stem cell treatment is a concern for many people, as this medical revolution in this field still require 10 to 20 years time, to become acceptable at all levels.
When it comes to science and advancements in it, as well as its positive or negative use, all depends on the man. It is no doubt, there are some moral issues associated with embryonic stem cells research, so are with use of guns and wars as instruments to further business or national goals.
After all, when we use guns, somebody dies. Are you going to say the gunman, or the man, policy or the country behind him is playing the role of God?