Foundationally Promising Research Discoveries of the Twentieth Term Paper

Pages: 20 (5874 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Biology

¶ … foundationally promising research discoveries of the twentieth century is Stem Cell Biology. Only announced as a possible scientific breakthrough in late 1998, significant research has begun on stem cells, yet even the announcement of the potential benefits by the National Academy of Science that comes with the then recent isolation of human stem cells did little to curb potential controversy and conflict.

Shannon 9)

Within the recent elections the issue of stem cell research has come to the forefront of consideration by voters, experts, opponent groups and proponent groups. The most substantial challenge to the recent federal rulings against stem cell research, by the Bush administration, is the passing of proposition 71 in California, which will create, and fund a 3 billion dollar stem cell research institute in the state of California.

Advocates of stem cell research are overjoyed at the collective snubbing of what some consider the dogmatic and conservative approach that the Bush administration and the current congress have taken to outlaw the use of new stem cell lines, therefore severely limiting the ability of scientists to conduct research in a productive manner. With the passing of this bill proponents expect to see other states follow suit to create a network of "legitimate" scientific resources, all in opposition of the federal stance on stem cell research, thought by many to be a pure and simple attempt to legislate morality. (Elias, November 3, 2004, "California's $3 billion stem cell proposition passes")

The issue of embryonic stem cell research has become so hotly contested and politically important that President George W. Bush discussed it in his first prime-time presidential address on August 17, 2001. The presidential address and President Bush's later decision to modify existing policy on embryonic research evoked debate among key players on both sides of the issue.

Stevens) more developed understanding of the official statement of the president with regards to stem cell research, in his 2001, can be found at the National Institutes for Health Website.

On August 9th, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that federal funds may be awarded for research using human embryonic stem cells if the following criteria are met:

The derivation process (which begins with the destruction of the embryo) was initiated prior to 9:00 P.M. EDT on August 9, 2001.

The stem cells must have been derived from an embryo that was created for reproductive purposes and was no longer needed.

Informed consent must have been obtained for the donation of the embryo and that donation must not have involved financial inducements. (NIH Website "NIH Role in Federal Policy")

As the federal governments leading biomedical research organization, they are then charged with the implementation and support of Bush policy. In their quest to support such policy they become a sort of watch dog group cataloging the 71 identified stem cell groups which meet the guidelines of the president and funding groups that study only within these federally mandated guidelines. Due to the fact that federal funding has been historically the most utilized resource by most research institutions the guidelines immediately changed the face of embryonic stem cell research, though not illegalizing research on stem cell lines outside the criteria essentially drying up the resources they needed to function.

Many conservatives who advocate a total funding ban, such as the Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups, have accused President Bush of breaking his campaign promise to prohibit federal funding of research involving the destruction of living embryos. (14) Taking another view, some scientists, citizens, and lawmakers supported Democratic efforts to reverse President Bush's decision and make embryonic stem cells more available for research. Scientists fear that limitations on federal funding will keep them from realizing the huge potential of stem cell research.

Stevens)

The resulting response from the scientific community and now individual states has been to privatize outside research and in the case of California allocate funding from within state budgets rather than federal budgets.

This work will address the issues of stem cell research, first be briefly describing the research itself and the expert opinions of its potential as a way to develop cures or diseases that have previously confounded many medical scientists. It will then go on to thoroughly discuss the stem cell research issue as a political/ethical/moral issue tracing the evolution of the issue through the various legislative processes and through the various bioethics groups who both support and oppose the research. The work will show the overall evolution of stem cell research as an issue facing the American people and the medical world specifically as one that may severely challenge the culture of the United States as it continues to define its recognized major role in the development of disease treatment and cure.

Stem Cell Research Explored

The greater understanding of the mutability of stem cells has led many scientists to believe that there will soon be a practical way to treat and respond to diseases that most, in the past believed to be human pariahs unable to be combated with curative therapy. Stem cell biology has led to a the potential for a promising future in the ability to treat and "cure" diseases that have long plagued the human population. The promise can be compared only to such discoveries as that of the involvement of germs in infection through the link with post treatment death and the disease fighting properties of antibiotics. With such a discovery on the horizon of human capabilities it is imperative that the reader has at least a basic understanding of the stem cell and its potential.

Recent reports on the isolation and successful culturing of the first human embryonic stem cell lines have generated great excitement and brought biomedical research to the edge of a new frontier...To understand the importance of this discovery as well as the related scientific, medical, and ethical issues, it is absolutely essential to first clarify the terms and definitions.

Borror, O'Rourke and Skirboll 54) short list of terms with their respective long descriptions will help to alleviate the potential for confusion of this very intricate issue. The political and ethical issues of stem cell research are often seen to be wallowing in the semantic quagmire of medical and scientific understandings, in much the same way as the criminal justice system, comprised of peer juries and expert witnesses first dealt with DNA findings.

Totipotent. Stem Cells, which are cells that have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and to give rise to specialized cells such as blood or skin or brain tissue, are best described in the context of normal human development. Human development begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg and creates a single cell that has the potential to form an entire organism. This fertilized egg is totipotent, meaning that its potential is total -- it can produce any kind of tissue found in the mature organism.

In the first hours after fertilization, this cell divides into two identical totipotent cells. This means that either one of these cells, if placed into a woman's uterus, has the potential to develop into a fetus. Approximately four days after fertilization and after several cycles of cell division, these totipotent cells begin to specialize, forming a hollow sphere of cells, called a blastocyst.

Borror, O'Rourke and Skirboll 54)

Even the novice is aware of the ability of medical science to create this phenomenon outside the human body using donated human materials. Such work has been done for decades as a fertility treatment for couples somehow unable to provide this for themselves naturally. At this stage most such cell bodies are implanted into the womb of a waiting patient to grow to maturity and be delivered in the same manner as any other child. Yet, the ability of science to duplicate this natural occurrence without the intention of implantation or the knowledge of the greater scientific body as a means for experimentation is one of the perceived dangers associated with human research.

Pluripotent Stem Cells. The blastocyst has an outer layer of cells; inside the hollow sphere is a cluster of cells called the inner cell mass. The outer layer of cells will divide to form the placenta and other supporting tissues needed for fetal development in the uterus. The inner cell mass cells will eventually form virtually all of the tissues of the human body...These inner cell mass cells are pluripotent -- they can give rise to many types of cells but not all types of cells necessary for fetal development. Because their potential is not total, they are not totipotent and they are not embryos. In fact, if an inner cell mass cell were placed into a woman's uterus, it would not develop into a fetus.

(Borror, O'Rourke and Skirboll 54)

Within the above definitions even the most novice reader would begin to see an ethical issue that creates potential controversy. In most stem cell research totipotent cells are not needed as the desire is not to create an entire living organism,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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