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Altering the Universe: From Gutenberg to Biotech
Revolution is in the air. While the digital revolution is transforming our view of the universe, the biotech revolution has the potential to alter the universe itself. The parallel with the invention of the printing press and the Renaissance is clear. (Blake, 2001). "Gutenberg's and Caxton's inventions turned the world figuratively and intellectually upside down and heralded new patterns of human activity and organization that were inconceivable prior to the early 15th century." (Blake, 2001, pg. 9). One of the great achievements of that era was the quick adaptation of this communications revolution to every aspect of human life. Today, "we are at the beginning of a new Renaissance...." (Blake, 2001, pg. 9). One of the more controversial elements of this new Renaissance is stem cell research. There is perhaps no field fraught with more possibility along with questions of morality and medical ethics. (Hickey, 2001).
Stem cells are the foundation for every type of cell in the body, and are believed to be a key in the development of treatments for autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes, and various forms of paralysis. (Hickey, 2001).
Stem cell research is a valuable new weapon against the global war against disease. There are a number of ways to achieve it without controversy. And there is a simple reason to view even the use of "pre-embryos" as a necessary and worthwhile sacrifice in this war.
Adult Human Stem Cell Research: A Viable Alternative
It makes a great deal of sense to use adult stem cells in place of those from embryos to avoid the raging controversy of embryonic stem cell research. Within the last several years, the discovery of adult stem cells in great variety has been reported. Adult stem-cell research has been hailed bye Science magazine as an astonishing breakthrough. (Edwards, 2000).
Adult stem cells have been found in skin and bone marrow, as well as in the bloodstream. Scientists have recently uncovered neural stem cells in the brain. The discovery of stem cells in the cornea is outstanding news for those who need corneal transplants. Corneal stem cells have already been used to treat patients in whom traditional corneal transplants were unsuccessful. (Edwards, 2000).
Adult stem cells can be recovered through tissue biopsy from patients, or grown in culture, and can be induced to differentiate into a wide range of mature cell types. (Condic, 2002).
The scientific, ethical, and political advantages of using adult stem cells, instead of embryonic cells, are clear. Deriving cells from an adult patient's own tissues completely circumvents the problem of immune system rejection. The therapeutic use of adult stem cells raises very few ethical red flags and completely gets around the highly divisive and acrimonious political debate raging around the use of human embryos. (Condic, 2002).
The concern that cells from diseased patients may themselves be abnormal is largely unwarranted. In the minority of cases where human illness is caused by genetic factors, most such illnesses occur relatively late in the patient's life. This late onset of genetic-related diseases suggests that such disorders would take years, or even decades, to reemerge in new replacement cells. (Condic, 2002). Beyond the promise of adult stem cell research, it is also possible to view the use of embryonic stem cells as feasible without raising the specter of moral outrage.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Save the Embryo
Up until now, it has been the assumption that research on embryonic stem cells will automatically require the destruction of the embryo. However, with advances in medical technology and know-how, it has become feasible to remove a few stem cells from an embryo without destroying that embryo. (Bartlett, 2001).
When stem cells are extracted from adults, such as from bone marrow, complex surgery is performed to minimize the risk to the adult donor. Similarly, a few stem cells can be extracted in the early stages of an embryo's development - without destroying that embryo. It is much more difficult and complex to accomplish this type of extraction. However, it can be, and is, governed by the same principle that is applied to adult stem-cell donation. (Bartlett, 2001).
A defensible and acceptable policy would be to support federally funded embryonic stem-cell research if the embryo is not…[continue]
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