Research Paper: Stem-Cell Research Disease and Illness Are Growing

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Stem-Cell Research

Disease and illness are growing causes of death everywhere in the world. Scientists are creating new ways to fight this devastating war on health problems. One of the best possibilities of victory resides in stem cell research. Stem cell research is the scientific study of certain types of cells called stem cells; these cells have the potential to revive, recreate and restore existing cells in the body. According to the Kansas University Medical Center in 2010, stem cells are unspecialized cells that develop into specialized cells, which make up more than 200 different types of cells in the human body. Stem cells are extracted from:

"Spare embryos: stem cells can come from leftover embryos stored at fertility clinics that were not used by couples to have children.

Special purpose embryos: embryos are created in vitro fertilization (artificially in the lab) for the sole purpose of extracting their stem cells.

Cloned embryos: embryos are cloned in labs using the somatic nuclear transfer method in order to harvest the stem cells.

Aborted fetuses: stem cells are taken from fetuses in early development that have been aborted.

Umbilical cords: this after-childbirth tissue holds potential for research.

Adult tissue or organs: stem cells are obtained from the tissue or organs of living adults during surgery.

Cadavers: isolation and survival of neural progenitor cells from human post-mortem tissues (up to 20 hours after death) has been reported and provides an additional source of human stem cells" (Pecorino L, 2010).

Stem cell research has resulted in considerable controversy as a result of its nature. A discussion of its advantages, disadvantages and ethical considerations provides a springboard for identifying the different issues involved.

ADVANTAGES of STEM-CELL RESEARCH

There are a vast amount of benefits for continuing and advancing in stem cell technology. One of the benefits of the research is the comprehension of the development of a cell. The more we know about cellular growth, the better we understand the aging cycles of a cell. Scientist can determine how and when they can deteriorate or grow cancerous. This means that doctors can possibly implant new cells to fight diseases. Also, scientists can determine how and when cells become more complex, which can lead to the possibility of creating complex cells in the same manner.

Another important benefit of stem cell research is the possibility of their use in biomedical research, such as drug studies. This will greatly enhance the safety of such studies and their results for recipients of resultant medication:

"With the advancement in stem cell research, it is possible to conduct clinical trials and test drugs and medications before marketing commercially. Thus, the effectiveness and side effects of therapeutic medicines can be studied in the absence of animal and human testers." (Sandhyarani, N. 2010).

A further advantage is that biomedical engineers will be able to create more beneficial drugs, as the time and other resources involved in testing will be minimized. A current case of the benefits of stem cell research has occurred in China, where stem cell experimentation is extensive. According to a video on StemCellsChina.com (2010), a young girl with cerebral palsy received many treatments. Kaelyn Sosa was almost two years old when she had an accident. She had to go to the hospital where medical personnel placed a tube into her airway. While in the MRI, the little girl removed the tube, causing her to asphyxiate herself. She lost a considerable amount of oxygen and suffered brain damage. Kaelyn received a few stem cell treatments in the United States and obtained minimal results. Legal issues in the United States made it difficult for the family to continue their quest for solutions. In China however, Kaelyn received 6 umbilical cord blood stem cell and 1 Bone Marrow aspiration injection, along with physical therapy. In the months following the therapy, she had grown stronger and more alert. Where she used to reach out and miss objects, she was now finding them and had better control of her body. The results were not drastic, but they were indeed noticeable.

While not an abundant amount of information is known about this science, stem cell research shows great potential to help with health issues. According to Viegas (2003, p. 47), for example, current stem cell research is focused upon three main areas: laboratory study to ensure the safety of stem cells for use in human beings; testing on human beings suffering from serious medical conditions; and hematopoietic stem cells, which is derived from umbilical cords and afterbirth when babies are newly born.

The benefits of stem cell research are becoming increasingly obvious. Viegas (2003, p. 48) states that, while paralyzed people before the turn of the century had little hope, stem cell research provides the possibility of healing. In the year 2000, researchers were able to restore movement to paralyzed mice and rats, by injecting stem cells into their spines.

Hematopoietic stem cells are already used to treat children with certain conditions. These stem cells have the ability to divide and create red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets for assistance in blood clotting.

In the light of all these advantages and developments, one might therefore argue that the considerable controversy surrounding the issue is somewhat misplaced, especially when considering the benefits of the technology. However, it is also important to consider the social and cognitive issues that influence the public opinion. Indeed, the controversy is far more complex than the mere weight of advantages as opposed to disadvantages.

THE CONTROVERSY of STEM-CELL RESEARCH

According to Liu and Priest (2007), most of the controversy surrounding stem cell research has been based upon religious convictions. Almost since the successful extraction of stem cells from human embryos, scientific has been engulfed in controversy in terms of both religion and morality. At the same time, politics and the media has also played a significant role in perpetuating this controversy, fuelling opposition despite the obvious benefits of the technology.

Liu and Priest (2007, p. 4) mention the example of Christian conservatives, who is of the conviction that embryos are human beings. As such, these embryos need to be subject to the respect for life commanded by God. Indeed, the belief follows that embryos, being part of the human race, are also created in the image of God -- a common Christian concept.

This sector further promotes the opposition to stem cell research as a type of abomination in terms of not only religion, but also of morality. The Christian voice regarding this issue is significantly strong, and influences the public opinion to some degree. Hence, although religious opposition emerges primarily from the Christian community, its influence extends beyond the borders of this religious sector.

Specifically, Rogal (2009, p. 3) mentions that the strongest religious opposition emerges not only from the Christian community in general, but also from institutions in the sector, most notably including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Family Research Council.

In terms of morality, physicians who oppose stem cell research on the grounds of promoting life for all living beings, including embryos. Such physicians, like those who oppose abortion on moral grounds, ethically disagree with the destruction of the embryo, which has the potential of life, even if this means saving another human life. According to Dahmen and Lundy (p. 2), critics have gone as far as stating that stem cell research, in destroying an embryo is tantamount to abortion and therefore morally reprehensible.

According to Rogal (2009, p. 6), the issue has sparked such controversy that it has encouraged fundamentalist Christians to enter the political arena in an attempt to oppose stem cell research more strongly. In politicizing these issue, leaders in Evangelical and fundamentalist circles have succeeded in shaping the opinions of their congregations on the matter. Indeed, the political participation of the clergy has gone as far as preaching political issues in their sermons, teachings, and church bulletins. All these media have served as a platform for fundamentalist religious leaders to gather a significant amount of support for their views.

INFLUENCING the PUBLIC: THE ROLE of the MEDIA and POLITICS

The role of the media in shaping the public opinion is important. This occurs by much the same dynamic as the church media, although not exclusively on religious grounds. The fundamental reasons behind the successful influence of the media are similar for both religious and non-religious media. In considering the Media, Liu and Priest (2007, p. 5) note that the media portrays stem cell research in varying ways, and as such, create varying perceptions of the issue within the public.

Indeed, early in their work (p. 2), the authors already note that, while the ideal is to root the pubic opinion within debate and conscious critical thinking, the reality is that people tend to be "cognitive misers." With this, the authors mean that there is a tendency to take what the media or even simply respected leaders present at face value without submitting it to critical examination.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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