January 2018

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Embryonic Stem Cells:

 Ethics v. Hope

During Fall 2017 semester, I took a stem cell biology lab, which
consisted of six hours lab, and one hour of discussion every week. The lab was
different from other biology labs I have taken before. For the first time, I
had to work with mammalian stem cells, which were exciting to watching them
grow and differentiate in a petri dish under the microscope. Despite my
excitement that I was about to learning how to grow mammalian embryonic stem
cells, I was surprised by just how many people, even some in my major, are
skeptical about stem cell, and even in particular, the major ethical
concerns arising from the use of stem cell technology in testing and human

First, before we can discuss this issue, we must first define stem
cells. According to the Committee on the Biological and Biomedical
Applications of Stem Cell Research National Research Council,
stem cells are unspecialized cells that replicate and have the potential to
become any cell type in the body (12). There are different types of stem cells
in the body. Embryonic stem cells, which found in the inner cell mass of the
blastocyst at the fifth day after fertilization (13). These cells also known as
pluripotent cells and which can give the rise to three germ layers: the
endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm, which them become all tissue type in the
human body (12). Another type of stem cells is the adult stem cells that found
in mostly every tissue in an adult. They can be either multipotent or
unipotent. For example, Hematopoietic stem cells, which found in the red bone
marrow, are multipotent stem cells that can give the rise for different type of
blood cells (20). And the unipotent stem cells are cells that can only become
one type of cells. for example, skin stem cells which are found in
the bottom layer of skin tissue, can help heal our wounds when we are injured
by replacing dead cells with new and heathy ones (23). Finally, the most used
in stem cells technology today is the induced pluripotent stem cells. Induced
pluripotent stem cells are produced in the lab using adult somatic cells; such
as skin cells, and reprogramming them using pluripotency growth factors to set
back the cells into pluripotent stem cells stage that behave as embryonic stem
cells (Takahashi et al., 861).

The discussion raised from the ethical issues concerning embryonic
stem cells is that many people have misconception about the way stem cells are
obtained. Stem cells are obtained from embryos donated by couples who used in
vitro fertilization (IVF) because they were unable to conceive naturally. The
female usually goes under invasive surgery to obtained multiple eggs. For this
reason, the clinic would have fertilized multiple embryos for the couples and
freeze them, so they can implant them into the uterus whenever the couple are
ready to have a baby. When couples do not want their embryos anymore, the
couple can either donate them for stem cell research or the clinic would be
required to flush them down the drain (Hammarberg and
Leesa 86).
This reality is often overlooked by many who voice against stem cell research;
they believe that stem cells are obtained unethically and at the expense of a
living embryo or that they are collected in a way that encourages the killing
if embryos. Since these embryos are destroyed either way, at the request of the
couple and not the doctors, why don’t we take advantage of the unwanted
embryos, that would have been destroyed anyway, for the benefit of humanity and
scientific research?

We asked the question of why people are skeptical about stem cells
in general. As mentioned previously, when the word embryonic is attached to
stem cells, it often triggers an emotional response form many who immediately
think of embryos and that scientists are murderers who are killing babies to
advance science. However, the reality is not what most people believe as
previously mentioned, those embryos were left to be disposed of. Also, not all
stem cells are embryonic, scientists today are able to take and use a somatic
cell, for example, skin cells are used to grow induced pluripotent stem cells
for research purposes. It is difficult to watch people protest and fight
against something they do not understand especially when many of them either
have or will develop a disease or ailment that could one day be cured or
treated by stem cells through stem cell research.

It’s important to note that most researchers agree on the
importance of stem cell biology and its potential to cure diseases and that it
isn’t just a small hope. What’s great about embryonic stem cells is that they
are pluripotent stem cells, and they have the capacity to become or replace
more than 200 cell types in the human body (Volarevic et al.).  On the
January 1st, 2018, International Journal of Medical Science
published an article saying, that “Results obtained from completed and on-going
clinical studies indicate huge therapeutic potential of stem cell-based therapy
in the treatment of degenerative, autoimmune and genetic disorders”
(Volarevic et al.).  

So, why are we still concerns about stem cells? and why is this
discussion is still an open ended one? Even with the technology we have today,
stem cells research is still in its very early stages, we still need years of intensive
research to get to the level of confidence and understanding required in using
stem cells in human clinical studies simply because of the risk associated with
stem cells; cancer. However, to dismiss stem cell research because of the lack
of knowledge on the subject, or the chances of human errors with the addition
to genetic mutations upon plantation, only keep hurdles in our way of advancing
stem cells technology into one that can one day save the lives of many. Ethics
are an important part of the discussion in the role and power of the scientific
community but we must be aware of the effect we have on the future when we
decide against something we don’t fully understand. It is in our best interest
to educate the public about stem cell research if we are to continue to develop
this amazing science for the benefit of humanity because without it, there may
be entire classes of diseases we may never be able to treat or cure, and that
is a future that is a little less bright.












Work Cited

Hammarberg, Karin, and Leesa Tinney. “Deciding the fate of
supernumerary frozen embryos: a survey of couples’ decisions and the factors
influencing their choice.” Fertility and sterility 86.1 (2006): 86-91.

National Research Council, Committee on the Biological Biomedical
Applications of Stem Cell

Research. Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine.
Washington, National

Academies Press, 2002.

Takahashi, Kazutoshi, et al. “Induction of pluripotent stem
cells from adult human fibroblasts by

defined factors.” cell 131.5 (2007): 861-872.

Volarevic, Vladislav, et al. “Ethical and Safety Issues of
Stem Cell-Based Therapy.”?International Journal of Medical Sciences?15.1
(2018): 36.

Volarevic, Vladislav, et al. “Human Stem Cell Research and
Regenerative Medicine—Present  

and Future.”?British Medical Bulletin?99.1 (2011).



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