Thursday, June 09, 2005

Let's Talk Stem Cell Research

I love the fact that this blog has been visited recently by several people who hold opposing views to the ones most often posted on this site. As I have said, my personal signature states, "When all men think alike, no one thinks very much." It does us good to hear from those with differing views, forcing us out of our tunnel-vision comfort zone and into a place for more contemplative thought. Here's to a view from a FAR (sorry, couldn't help myself), and JJ Jones as well.

Before reading FAR's comment about adult stem cell research, I had not known very much about the differences between the two main branches of study on the subject. To put it simply, embryonic stem cells are mostly obtained from blastocysts, frozen for use in invitro-fertilization. Adult stem cells are obtained from live donors, including placenta, umbilical cord and organ tissue. Currently only private companies can conduct embryonic research; government-funded labs conduct research on adult stem cells. The question is, can adult stem cells achieve the medical break-throughs expected from embryonic ones? Is enough research being done to answer question one?

First, let me say in all candor, I am not smart enough to read the link FAR provided in his comments to my original post, Idiotic Stem Cell Moment ( I can't get the link to copy, look it up yourselves). The author loses me after the first page. Secondly, after exhaustive research, I have come to a few conclusions of my own (huge surprise). The most obvious answer is, there is not a lot of agreement on the matter. The Christian right works very hard to provide documented proof that adult stem cells are the ones most viable, proven effective and do not destroy life in obtaining them. The scientific community doubts adult stem cells will live up to the promise of embryonic ones, which have also had their share of success stories. The best information seems to come from, which provides a fairly balanced view of the matter.

Something that jumps out at me is from the American Heart Association. Read down the page to the decision of their board on why the AMA will not conduct embryonic stem cell research:

to await the release of final NIH Guidelines for federal funding of stem cell research.

seek input from Association leadership and Council members.

consider the impact of funding embryonic stem cell research on volunteer and staff retention.

weigh the potential adverse financial impact which would restrict the ability to fund other lifesaving research and programs.

It seems to me they fear a loss of funding if they choose to conduct such research independently, even if they do not use federal funds for that purpose. They also worry about retention of staff, even though it seems such research could be voluntary, from those who do not oppose the use of blastocyst cells. My conclusion from this is that some or even many private organizations who receive any government funding are doing only adult stem cell research. Also, all fully government-funded institutions are doing only adult stem cell research. So the only loser in this equation is embryonic stem cell research, which must rely on totally private funding. QED the answer to question number two is yes, there seems to be plenty of research on adult stem cells.

To answer question number one, there needs to be more research on embryonic stem cells. For the time being, this will be done overseas, where US controls and caution may not be used. So where is the greater good?