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By Valerie Schmalz
The potential of embryonic stem cells, especially their capacity to subdivide
and create all the organs that make up a human being, enthralls many scientists.
However, the 100-150 cells from "left-over" embryos created
via in-vitro fertilization have not, so far, lived up to scientists
expectations. The technology of using embryonic stem cells has yet to
produce a cure.
One of the biggest problems is that the little test-tube babies have their
own unique DNA and the human body is programmed to reject foreign matter.
And so recipients of transplanted organs spend a lifetime on anti-rejection
drugs and the same issues apply to treatments devised with embryonic stem
In addition to organ rejection, there are other problems, among them:
mice injected with embryonic stem cells to cure one disorder have developed
tumors in other parts of the body and died.
"For over twenty years they have been working with embryonic stem
cells. No patient has been treated with them because they cant get
them to work," says David Prentice, Ph.D., science advisor to Sen.
Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, the prime sponsor of a bill to ban human cloning
nationally. Prentice is also science advisor for the Family Research Council
and former biochemistry professor at Indiana State University.
"At the same time we have thousands of live patients successfully
treated with adult stem cells," says Prentice. "Its like
night and day when you look at the actual results."
Some successful treatments using these flexible adult stem cells include
partially regenerating spinal cord damage, rebuilding corneas to restore
sight, and alleviating the symptoms of Parkinsons disease and diabetes.
Other diseases whose symptoms have been successfully treated with adult
stem cell therapies include multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn's disease,
heart disease, leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, aplastic anemia, and
sickle cell anemia, according to this
article on the Family Research Council website.
But the promise of embryonic stem cells beckons to many scientists. They
believe if they can successfully clone an embryo using the cells and thus
the DNA of the person needing treatment, they can circumvent the bodys
rejection mechanism. With cloning, the scientists would take the DNA material
from the person to whom the "cure" was to be directed and implant
it into an "emptied" egg or ovum and then build an embryo from
Cells from cloned embryosbroken apart to retrieve the cellscould
theoretically be used to build new organs, create cures to auto-immune
diseases such as diabetes and arthritis, and to regenerate new nerve systems
to repair damaged spinal cords.
"When you listen to these stories think about how many times you
hear 'potential'," says Prentice. Researchers are also running into
rejection problems with cloned mice because there are many technical issues
with the injection of one persons DNA into the "emptied"
egg taken from a woman, he says.
Most importantcloning for cures, even if there are anystill
"A lot of people want to keep away from the 'C' word, so they use
the term somatic cell nuclear transfer to obtain stem cells,"
says Prentice. "They are playing with words to kind of sanitize it--so
people dont know you made an embryo to destroy and you are actually
Read "Cloning Conflict" |
"How Cloning Works"
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight.
She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print
and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University
of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service
at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San
Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.
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