by Elizabeth Tanguay
I’ve been wanting to write on this for a while now, but there never was an appropriate time. Now that the courts in the US have halted Obama’s administration from expanding the embryonic stem cell research program, I think the time has come.
A stem cell is your basic cell, with the amazing property to develop into any kind of tissue. This is why we originally started using embryos, because they are developing all their tissues, and therefore have lots of stem cells. But what we are discovering now is that we also have stem cells scattered a little all over the place in our body. One valuable source of stem cells is umbilical cord blood.
Embryonic stem cell research was first viewed as the miracle cure for all kinds of diseases, such as Parkinson’s and cancer. But the promise of this research has not yielded a single cure. Embryonic stem cells are too unstable, and they can cause tumours. There is also a greater risk of it being rejected by the recipient’s body. It’s mostly politicians who are trying to put more money into it.
However, adult stem cells, which doesn’t require the destruction of a human life, have saved hundreds of lives and been found to cure sickle cell anemia, systemic scleroderma, and quadriplegia, just to name a few.
Also, it makes more scientific sense than embryonic stem cells. As they say, there is no controversy in taking cells from your own body. There are stem cells found everywhere in your tissues. No need to worry about tissue rejection or tumours from fast growing cells. And the list of the conditions they treat is staggering. Everything from cancers to autoimmune diseases to some neural degenerative disorders have been successfully treated or cured with adult stem cells, often taken from the patient’s own body.
This is clearly an area where political agendas are getting the way of scientific advancement. Up to last year, embryonic stem cell research in the US wasn’t getting any funding from the government. But now the Obama administration have lifted that ban and given millions to fund something that doesn’t even work.