Debate rages on about stem cell research techniques

By Kirstin Riggs 2007

“I think as long a we are aborting fetuses, we should take cells from them,” a CF student said, “but I didn’t know that you can get stem cells from adults.”

This student is not alone. According to a Hi-Line poll of 10 percent of Cedar Falls High School, 58 percent of the student body has never heard of adult stem cell research. In fact many student, not knowing much about the topic, found it difficult to go on record.

At a national level, the government has been disputing the topic of stem cell research and what its role should be. The tissue producing cells that the government researches are found in both embryos and adults.

Democratic Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was quoted in an article on northjersey.com saying that democrats who support embryonic stem cell research have found a great issue in that they are able to send the simple message that they are trying to fight diseases and save lives.

“The Republican Party has to give the complex explanation of why they don’t want to do that,” Vilsack said. He, along with many others, supports embryonic stem cell research.

Dr. Carl Vanderkooi, who works a Medical Associates Covenant Clinic in Waterloo, said that embryonic stem cells might be be necessary.

“Stem cells are cells that change into tissue. They are the precursor for the finished cell,” Vanderkooi said. “When you think about it, we all start with one cell which turns into all tissue. Stem cells are similar in this cell in that they become different types of tissue, and they come from adults as well as embryos.”

Adult stem cells are found in bone marrow, body fat, umbilical cord, blood, skin, lung, liver and other areas of the human body. They are now being used to treat people with juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury, immune deficiency and corneal repair, to name a few.

In a recent study by Dr. Cathine M. Verfailli at the University of Minnesota, versatile stem cells have been found in adults. These are cells that potentially can turn into all types of tissues.

Embryonic cells are taken from embryos during their first eight weeks. The have the potential to turn into all types of tissues as well. The embryos can be obtained from somatic cell nuclear transfer, another word for cloning and sometimes called “therapeutic cloning.”

During the cloning process, the nucleus of a human egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus of a somatic cell, such as skin, which already has 46 chromosome, to create an embryo. It is then harvested for stem cells.

“They take embryos, remove the kidneys, grind them up and find potential stem cells,” Vanderkooi said. “The problem is you have to destroy a human embryo to get tissue.”

Embryonic cells also are difficult to control and may cause tumor. Vanderkooi went on to say that a case showed that when embryonic cells were used on five patients in Europe, the embryonic cells cause tumors. None of the patients survived the treatment.

Adult stem cells are used over 20,000 times yearly in the United States alone to create formerly impossible cures.

When stem cells found in the patients’ own bone marrow were inserted into five patients failing hearts in Vienna, healthy heart tissue was regenerated. All five patients were removed from the heart transplant list, and four out of the five survived. the one death had an unrelated cause and new heart tissue was growing.

“It comes down to ethical decisions that are based on pragmatic value,” Vanderkooi said. “Is it worth pragmatically killing a human being to do other’s good or to protect life or medicine? Every time you use an embryo for stem cell research you are killing a human being.”

The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal and are endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“The most basic right is the right to life, because you can’t have liberty or pursue happiness without life,” Vanderkooi said.

Historically, Nazi Germany is an example of experimentation in humans.

“The experiments that they did were morally wrong. They took prisoners, the mentally deficient, those with epilepsy or (those) of a different race and did experiments on them for pragmatic reasons to find out what would happen to them. They tortured and killed for scientific purposes,” Vanderkooi said. “Look at the parallels between what they did and what’s being proposed now.”

Out of the seven European countries that banned embryonic stem cell research, Germany was one of the first, knowing first-hand the effects of the morals of human experimentation.

One moral issue in stem cell research is whether or not using embryos is murder.

Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, said, “A lot of people think when we talk about embryonic stem cell research that somehow we’re destroying fetuses. They get this confused. So I pointed out, no, it’s just as big as a dot on a piece of paper. We’re going to equate that with this human?”

There are those who take the opposite opinions saying that the embryos are human.

Vanderkooi said, “Biologically, the most reasonable point to consider the embryo to be human is at the time of conception when it has full complemental DNA, which are the building blocks of life.”

In the United States, Republicans are pushing to restrict research to using only adult cells, while Democrats view this as a threat to science.

“It is now indisputably clear that the president’s policy is hindering scientific progress toward possible cures and treatments for a wide range of diseases,” Harkin said. “It is time we allowed scientists to tap the full potential of the research.”

Republican Senator Charles Grassley has a different view.

“George W. Bush is the first president to invest federal funding in stem cell research,” Grassley said. “We should continue to invest in the alternative methods and sources, such as cord blood, pancreases and bone marrow, so that we don’t have to sacrifice human life.”

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