1. What are some of the arguments put forth against and in support of embryonic stem cell research?
A stem cell is defined as a cell that can divide continuously and develop into several other types of tissues and cells. A stem cell can be used to generate large numbers of similar cells from a limited source. Stem cells can be derived from several quarters such as from an embryo, fetus and adults.
Research is ongoing on the potential of Stem cells and how they can be put in broader use. Stem cell research is a subsection of regenerative medicine field which entails a wide range of medical biotechnologies and practices.
There has been an ongoing bioethical debate globally on issues regarding the embryonic stem (ESR) research. Those who are against the practice have raised concerns of the moral status of the embryo, arguing that the embryo deserves respect, and should be treated like a human being.
Some people have argued that the human embryo can grow into a baby and by using it in ESR is inhumane as it destroys the embryo. Another viewpoint against ESR is that stem cells can be obtained from other parts like the amniotic fluid or adult stem cells and not necessarily the embryo.
Other quarters have argued that is an expensive and unethical method of realising scientific accomplishments and it consumes funds that could be used in more prosperous and ethical research programs.
However, Scientific oriented individuals and organisations have come up in defence of the ESR. Some of the defences they have put forward in this question include; That week-old blastocysts are not human beings, and that using them in research where they are destroyed cannot amount to killing a human.
According to these groups, week-old embryos are a mere cluster of cells and do not, therefore, deserve the protection accorded to humans. Most scientists argue that a fetus can only be considered human at two weeks of age.
The Pro-ESR groups put forward their viewpoint of funding as, funding of the program by the United States Federal government cannot be a waste as there are massive advantages to be realised from the successes that could accrue from ESR.
2. Could the ethical debate be put to rest with the use of adult stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells? Do we know enough yet about the potential of either embryonic or adult stem cells?
The ethical debate could end with an agreement that researchers use adult stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells. There are various advantages of using the adult stem cells over the embryonic ones thus;
Adult stem cells are obtained from an individual’s bone marrow, body fat or blood with negligible effect on the individual and most importantly with consent from the individual. This eliminates the question of destroying life.
The adult stem cells are capable of performing an autologous transplant meaning that they are not rejected by the immune system of the body into which they are introduced. These cells also have the capability of transforming into pluripotent stem cells, meaning they have the advantage of embryonic cells without having to use or destroy human embryos.
The other advantage of using adult stem cells is that they can be used in regenerating bones with the application of cells from the bone marrow stroma, treating heart muscle diseases and developing insulin-Producing cells for treatment of type 1 diabetes.
Use of adult stem cells has the advantage of specialization over the embryonic stem cells. The cells generated are of a specific type depending on the part of the body in which the cells will be introduced to. This reduces the possibility of the patient to develop complications from the rejection of cells when introduced into the body of the patient.
The potential of using the adult stem cells is well-known courtesy of the extensive research that has already been done in this field. Bioscientists have established various successes using adult stem cells such as the production of insulin and regeneration of bones. However, details of the potential of using embryo stem cells remain scanty as little achievements have been realized in this field.