embryonic stem cells grown at the University of Wisconsin-Madison randomly
changed into cell types found in the
them stem cells free
But even before the cash spigot opens, the government may close it -- or even try to limit research on human embryonic stem cells, the more promising and controversial type of stem cell. The stakes are huge. Stem cells can transform themselves into literally any cell in the body. They could be more important to medicine than impact wrenches to a grease monkey.
Once controlled and fathomed, stem cells could make drugs seem as antiquated as horseless carriages.
Here's the revolutionary idea in its simplest terms: Today's medicine tries to support or treat injured tissues and organs. Stem cells might simply replace them. Rather than giving insulin to diabetics, we'd give them new cells to make insulin as needed.
To get more mileage from our motor metaphor, we would quit fixing leaky fuel-pump gaskets and simply bolt down a shiny new pump.
While most uses of stem cells are highly experimental, they are already used in cancer treatment. After tumors and the patient's bone marrow are both killed by anti-cancer drugs, blood stem cells are squirted into the marrow, where they get a long-term lease and make the whole shmear of blood-cell types.
do research into can-do cells
We are talking major, menacing diseases that kill and disable millions of people each year. Some of these diseases can be prevented or treated. None can be cured.
But before you buy 100 shares of a stem cell conglomerate, remember that these uses remain theoretical. Beyond the ticklish biological problems, research in the United States has confronted a political and ethical quagmire.
To some people, taking stem cells from a fetus or embryo amounts to unethical exploitation of human life, and healing one life does not justify destroying another. "We have called on the new administration to make absolutely sure that no destructive stem cell research on embryos is done in this country, regardless of the source of funding," Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, told The New York Times (see "Transition in Washington..." in the bibliography).
During his campaign, George W. Bush said he opposed federal financing of "experimentation on embryonic stem cells that require live human embryos to be discarded or destroyed."
research = no cure...
In late February, 80 Nobel prize-winners wrote the President to support stem cell research.
In 1995, Congress banned federal funding for destructive research into human embryos -- the source of the most promising type of stem cells. Last fall, the National Institute of Health issued guidelines allowing funding of research on cells from embryos that otherwise would be discarded. Those guidelines are under review by the Bush Administration, whose Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, supported stem-cell research while governor of Wisconsin.
The ethical, political
and scientific debates hinge on two distinctions.
Second, the source of the cells:
Despite the federal restrictions, exciting news about these versatile cells continues to roll down the road. Scientists recently announced that blood stem cells, a type of adult stem cell, form cells that look suspiciously like neurons -- brain cells. And on Feb. 24, Reuters reported that California scientists had used human stem cells to create human neurons in mouse brains.
What is the potential of the two flavors of stem cells? How could they help treat one particularly nasty brain disease?
Stem the tide! Here's The Why Files Guide to Stem Cells!
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