Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Stem Cell Debate - Finding a Life-Saving Cure

President-elect Barack Obama could reignite an emotional national debate over the promise and the perils of medical research using cells taken from human embryos. Like previous presidents, Obama is expected to issue a flurry of executive orders after he takes office Jan. 20. Some could reverse Bush administration policies; others could promote his own.

Ending a ban on government funding for research using embryonic stem cells would be among the most controversial. Scientists say cells taken from human embryos offer the most promise of being used to develop therapies for Parkinson's, diabetes and other diseases. Some scientists have found cells taken from adults also have lifesaving potential.

If Obama issues an order reversing the ban, Congress will have to act again — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested it will. A law on the books since 1996 bans funding of research that harms embryos and would prevent funding for research even on cells from embryos slated to be discarded by fertility clinics.

In the early 1990’s when this proposed ban was being debated on Capital Hill, "Before the U.S. government condones with federal funding research that results in the destruction of living human embryos, we have the moral obligation to explore and exhaust every ethical alternative," Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, said at a House subcommittee hearing on the issue.

But the lines aren’t clearing drawn. Anti-abortion politicians such as Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Gordon Smith of Oregon wanted Bush to permit federal funding for research because of the embryonic cells' potential in fighting disease.

Hatch said he decided to support embryonic stem cell research only after studying the legal, medical, religious and ethical issues involved. He has said, "The reality today is that each year thousands of embryos are routinely destroyed. Why shouldn't embryos slated for destruction be used for the benefit of mankind?"

Having a family member with diabetes makes me so inclined to agree with Senator Orrin Hatch for probably the only time in my adult life. I have been weighing this issue for some time and I know that adult stem cells have showed promise, but we cannot say embryonic stem cells have not, even with existing research on old stem cell lines, when more specific and vast research has been stymied by the government.

In the meantime, other countries, like Iran, make headway in these areas while we fall behind. The United States should be leading the way, by example, on how to do this research ethically and responsibly. Why not put back in place a law similar to one by the Clinton administration that allowed federal money for stem-cell research using embryos if the work is funded by private money and the embryos come from fertility clinics and would otherwise be discarded?

I believe we should be doing something life-affirming with these fertilized eggs that otherwise, will just end up in a landfill. If you had a family member, a child with diabetes, Parkinson’s, a spinal cord injury, or other disease that could be treated, what would you say? I say yes. I hope Obama does too.


okbushmans said...

Could you clear this up for me? Embryonic Stem Cell research is not illegal, correct? It is more a funding ban from govt. funds, right? If it has such amazing possibilities, why does the industry need the govt's money? Companies would be jumping at the chance wouldn't they? I really haven't read much on this topic, so I can't decide one way or the other. Why the need of govt funding?

Jen said...

I am so leary on the matter. I think if they are being thrown away then, sure what's the difference, but it still feels a little funny to me. I would just want to make sure that we completely stopped at that using ONLY ones that were going to be discarded. Reason being, it never just stops there. I fear that eventually there won't be enough of what they already have and then they will find some excuse to create stem cells for the purpose of "Saving Lives". There is still hope in human stem cell research. It's been more than 4 years since I worked for an industry that was involved in stem cell research and many people I worked with--the scientists--said that we should be doing more with the stem cells in humans and for some of them it was an ethical issue to use embroynic stem cells. But that research/info is probably somewhat dated.

So I'm not opposed but it, but isn't realistic that stem cell research is the end all be all to all medical mysteries (I know you know this also) Also, there are so many other alternatives. For example, the eyelet cells in the human pancreas can be transfered into a diabetic and they are diabetic free for up to 3 years. (Currently there have to be 2 matching pancreas to the recipiant--more difficult than matching bone marrow and the pancreas obviously have to come from the diceased--then the pancreas is spun using centrifugal force to pull out the eylet cells and then they are transferred to the recipiant) Obviously there is a long way to go--but you being into science and having a husband who is diabetic, I thought you might find this interesting. This is still in the research stages at NIH--but hey, maybe you can volunteer :)

My father is a severe diabetic. He is fit, works out, eats right (most of the time) but still has major issues. He is losing his sight and has lost most of the feeling in his feet which makes it difficult for him to walk steadily. We have called 911 to save his life on more than one occasion. In one instance it took over 1 1/2 hours to bring him to a functioning level. He was at one time in the beginning stages of a diabetic coma. I can honestly say that I will not be surprised if we get the call that we lost him to diabetes. I really want to find a cure. He has actually been involved with some research at NIH. I also had gestational diabetes with both babies and have a higher chance of developing the disease myself. I have many of the same fears you have. My father is deterrorating. I would love to find a cure and help him. I just thought I'd let you know since I never have mentioned it before.

Final thoughts, If the private sector, who is allowed to use embroynic stem cell resarch, isn't, then why push it with the govt. jsut for funds? The private sector has GOBS of money and they typically go forward with with what is successful. I really don't know much on this, but it seems that we get a lot of great things from the private sector--let's leave it to them to decide what they think will work.

Ben and Christina said...

I thought Bush passed a law saying it WAS illegal to stem cell research- obviously there is a lot of confusion on this issue- I know I am definitely confused!!

Lula O said...

It is currently not illegal in the US to do embryonic stem cell research as long as private donors or state money (like CA) and not Federal monies are used. Unless it began before the 2001 moratorium issued by President Bush preventing it.

Currently the National Institute of Health, a Federal agency that funds biomedical research in a variety of medical fields, cancer, aids, diabetes, Alzheimer’s etc., and supports nonfederal scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals, etc., cannot give any money for this type of stem cell research. Universities and medical schools especially need this gov. money in the form of grants, as private donations only go so far and are extremely competitive. With not enough funding they can't invest the resources they need to do it effectively. In essence, it takes much longer for good results.

Yes, the private sector does have gobs of money, but they pick and choose who they give it too, with the majority of it probably staying with their own companies, thereby cornering the technology all for themselves. What encourages them to share what they learn and share their money too? Competition with the government.

We are already falling behind. Talented scientists are leaving the country so they can work on this unfettered, and while much has been done with attempting to trick adult stem cells to do the same things as their embryonic counterparts, its very expensive and time consuming to do so. As far as I’m concerned that’s wasting valuable time.

Lula O said...

Just one more thing - Legislation sponsored by Hatch and four abortion-rights supporters from both parties in past attempts would ban cloning to create human beings, called "reproductive cloning," but would allow cloning embryos for research, dubbed "therapeutic cloning." Hatch prefers the term "regenerative medicine."

Is a 'therapeutically cloned' embryo the same as one created from a man and woman? Can that cloned embryo grow into a person with a soul and spirit? Today, no it can't. But decades from now, who knows.

If you look at the top 10 things that kill Americans, you will see at least five could benefit from this research. I don't think this will be the answer to every medical question and will solve every problem. I just believe we need to explore every option available to us in fighting disease. That takes money. Lots of it.

Gale said...

Sorry guys, I've got nothing. All I know is it is legal the only thing there is no green light for is govn't funding....private sector can do whatever they want (as I understand it). I would steer away from having the govn't get involved, but I am ever the republican who sometimes leans libertarian so I am sure that is not a surprise to you.

Lula O said...

Gale are you Bray's twin sister? When I look at that tiny picture of your beautiful blonde babies, I'm grateful that you and your blonde husband found each other. I've read that the gene for recessive blonde hair is supposed to die out in the next couple hundred years or so, because blonde people aren't marrying each other and having fair-haired babies.
Try to encourage your children to do the same will you, by dating and eventually marrying gorgeous blonde men. For the good of the species....:)

okbushmans said...

Or maybe they could make clone embryos! Save the Blondes, support embryonic cloning! I think there is a ring to that.

Bryce and Mandy said...

I am all for embryonic stem cell research. To me I think of it the same as organ donation. If I were a little embryo and I was going to be thrown away, why not use whatever I contain to help someone else?

And I think the govt should be involved in the funding so it can progress as quickly as possible. Why aren't we doing as much as we can to save people? Why not use all means, govt and private? Have the private sector working on it and other agencies using govt funds. To me it is a no-brainer. I'm not going to tell someone they won't possibly find a cure for them in their lifetime because I don't want the govt to spend the money. To me it is worth it. The sooner they do the research the sooner (hopefully) they will start finding cures or helping people who are paralyzed walk again. Can you imagine that? How amazing would that be! I say, when it comes to life and death, whatever will get the work done the fastest is the way to go.

okbushmans said...

Mandy, you said, "when it comes to life and death, whatever will get the work done the fastest is the way to go." I am still on the fence about this issue, so I'm asking more out of curiosity and clarification.

Is an embryo considered life? (embryo is a fertilized egg, considered such until the 8th week) If so, are you for abortion, because it is discarding embryos. Of course for completely different purposes, so I'm not making them equals. Yet, I can't rationalize one 'life' for another 'life'. And where do you draw the line? I can justify it when the embryos will be discarded, yet we all know from history that boundaries are never kept, limits never stop people. A heart beats starting at 22 days, so does that embryo have 'life'? Will it 'die' during stem cell research? I don't know. I'm curious what others think, is this a 'life or death' issue all the way around?

Bryce and Mandy said...

When I said my "life and death" comment I was referring to using govt funds to further the research, not to use aborted fetuses for research too. I am not for that. I am only for research on embryos (which are typically 4-5 days old) from fertility clinics that will be discarded as was referred to on Lula's post.

Unfortunately I can't see the future, so I don't know what type of consequences will happen if they do pass this funding. But I do know how much good it could possibly bring to so many people if they started doing research now on the discarded embryos.

Lula O said...

Sorry I know you weren't talking to me, but it is a perplexing question, and for me, a no win situation, just a practical one. Either someone will die from a terrible disease or an embryo built in a petri dish will perish. Stem cells are harvested from the blastocyst stage, typically day 4-8 after fertilization. Its just cells, the building blocks of life that have yet to form the heart, the brain.

Do we have any idea how many women in the world have early miscarriages at this stage and never even have a clue that they are pregnant? I read once it's something like 50% of all pregnancies end this way.

Are they considered alive at that stage? That's a question no one will ever be able to answer for sure.

Bryce and Mandy said...

Oh, and no, I am not for abortion. My position hasn't changed since I said so last week. (add sarcasm here)

Lula O said...

Another thought. You know it takes eight or so days for the egg to implant in the uterine wall, at the blastocyst stage actually. What about everyone who has an IUD? Isn't that what that does, prevent implantation? I'm not absolutely sure but I think someone told me that's what it does. Is everybody who has one of those commiting murder every month?

okbushmans said...

Lula, thank you for the clarification. I am not well-read on this, so I'm glad you have some background knowledge. But getting back to my earlier question, is embryonic stem cell research ILLEGAL or just not federally funded? It seems like when the govt HAS to fund it to be successful, maybe it isn't all it's cracked up to be. You would think any corporation would jump at the chance to have their name tied to the 'cure for alzheimers' (which my grandma died of) or 'cure for parkinsons' (which my grandpa died of) or other stem-cell possible cures. I just don't know enough, but it makes me feel uncomfortable opening a door to anything embryonic. I definitely need to research more.

Gale said...

I am so completely out of this debate. All I have had on my mind is Twilight all day. Enjoyed the movie tonight. My brain can only think of romance and since my husband is out of town and isn't home to be my Edward, I go to bed frustrated....Is that too much information??

Lula, you are right, I need to make more blonde babies!!

OH if you all only knew what floozies Republicans are!! LOL

I am laughing as you have all made such well thought out intellectual comments on a very serious subject and I throw down this....sorry.

Lula O said...

So, wait, you've already seen the movie? Is it any good? How many star's would you rate it? Seriously. I'm having a hard time deciding if I'm going to go. You now being the non-conformist I am.

Gale said...

lula, yes I went to the premiere last night (won tickets) It was good but not as good as the book. I had a hard time as it began because I had just read the book again and I spent the whole first hour comparing it and it didn't measure up. You just need to let go and enjoy without comparing it to the book and you will enjoy even being the non conformist you are!!!!

Ashley said...

Hi, girls,
Sometimes I sort of feel like I'm barging in on a private conversation when I comment, but I just had a thought I wanted to add. What agout umbilical cord blood? I know that they're full of stem cells so why doesn't the government just save and use that? I don't know that much about it, but if they had come to me during pregnancy with one more paper to sign that said "We can keep the cord blood after delivery for research" I'd have said "Go ahead". It just goes in the trash. Can it be used the same way?

Lula O said...

The stem cells from pregnancy related tissue, such as umbilical cords are adult stem cells; the law does not restrict their study. And while generally limited to the cell tissue they originate from, they have made some break throughs with them, but it can be costly and very time-consuming to trick them into becoming embryonic, or so I have read.
I believe we should take advantage of every option available to us in fighting disease. In a controlled and ethical way, and within reason, all types of stem cells need to studied, in my humble opinion anyway.
If we have govt funding for other research, like cancer, Alzheimers, etc, why not include this in the mix?