The History of Stem Cell Research

Stem cells, many have heard the name, but really don’t understand the theory or research behind it. Stem cell research had a slow uprising in the mid 1800’s and had exploded here in the 21st century. It started out with the discovery that some cells can regenerate or create other cells. Now stem cell research is stuck in a controversy over the usage of these cells for research. The first real proof of stem cell capabilities was discovered in the early 1900’s with the discovery of the regeneration of blood cells. They’re similar to cells that duplicate through mitosis and a new creation of another cell all together.

The first stem cell research came along with the findings of animal and human stem cells. A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to continuously divide and differentiate into various kinds of cells and tissues. It’s somewhat similar to a blank micro chip; it can be made to be specialized at anything, like our stem cells. When certain conditions occur in the laboratory stem cells can be manipulated to be specialized to create various kinds of cells and tissues. The main reason for this research is the treatment of life threatening and debilitating diseases such as cancer Parkinson’s disease and even diabetes. If scientists are able to figure out the genetic programming of these cells then one day they can program them to work for our benefit and make human life better, more sufficient and give us the ability to repair damaged tissues and organs and better understand disease processes. In work with the human genome experiments and advanced gene-line engineering stem cells can be the next cure for everything and the possibilities are endless. Cloning of humans and animals and the permanent resistance of harmful and currently incurable diseases is the goal of this research in whole.

There are different kinds of stem cells that contribute to research, but all are not constitutionally considerate and lead to the debates that we have now that cripple this research and slow down our race; the human race. The discovery of the embryonic stem cells is important to research which can only be collected from the inner-mass of the blastocyst (unborn fetus) seven to 10 days after initial fertilization in a human female uterus. There is the fetal stem cell, which the cells are taken from the germ-line tissues that make up the gonads of aborted fetuses. Umbilical cord stems cells are similar to those found in adult bone marrow. Placenta stem cells can accumulate ten times more stem cells than umbilical cord blood. Then there are adult stem cells, many can be isolated and used for the goals that want to be reached, but let’s narrow it down.

There are three broad categories of stem cells classified by their abilities to differentiate or vary. Totipotent stem cells can ne found in early embryos and each of these cells can create one full organism such as an identical twin, very useful in the cloning of any organism. Pluripotent are like the embryonic stem cells and can vary into over 200 different cell types found in every human. Multipotent stem cells are those of adult cord blood and fetal tissue stem cells. Their abilities are narrower than those of pluripotent cells, but already have successful records for cell based and minor gene based therapies.

The use of these cells are very complicated, but can be attained. The first real use of them was the administration of adult stem cells in connection with bone- marrow transplants. At this time bone marrow was being administered through the mouth to patients who suffered from anemia and leukemia. This therapy had no success, but led to the quick discovery of lab experiments that ultimately showed that mice with defective marrow could be restored to complete health by infusing marrow from other mice into the mouse with defective marrow. These lead physicians across the globe wondering if marrow could be transplanted from one human to another, which today is called the allogeneic transplant.

Early experimentation of this procedure was happening during the radiation accident in the late 1950’s which kept it low on radar. Usage of this procedure didn’t inflate until a French medical researcher (Jean Dausset) made a discovery about the human immune system that discovered antigens that were proteins connected to most human cells that are called HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigens). Basically they determine what belongs to one body and what does not, such as, blood germs ect… If the body doesn’t recognize the series of proteins or antigens on the cell walls of the cells then the body creates anti bodies and other things to dispose of it. A bone marrow between complete identical twins guarantees complete HLA compatibility between the donor and recipient. Not until the late 1600’s were scientists able to perform these kind of transplants on non identical siblings. The first successful transplant of unrelated bone marrow between two non siblings happened in ’73 requiring 7 transplants to be complete. With this, in ’84 the National Donor Society was created and is the first national list of donors, thanks to Congress and the Nation Organ Transplant Act. It allowed clearance to evaluate unrelated marrow, which lead to the NDWP (National Marrow Donor Program) that took over lists for hundreds of thousands of people in ’90. So far the NDWP has completed over 16,000 transplants for treatments of immunodeficiency and leukemia combined. Adult stem cells have also been a perfect candidate for research due to their ability to form many kinds of cells and tissues that can repair brain, liver and even heart cells, consumed by disease, but there were some very unhappy people debating these procedures.

Pro-Life activists believe that it is unethical to take a life to save a life and started this debate. This is purely scientific and is rendering stem cell research hopeless because, it is totally impossible to harvest the potential of these cells using them to save the living and protect the “sanctity of life” at the same time. With plain fact that these cells possibly hold the secrets to cures preventions and treatments of the most undetermined diseases it would seem that this would be a no brainer.

Politically though the battle is something of a tougher substance. This debate is clearly the battle over abortion and religiously an embryo is considered a life, but many families and patients depend on the use of these cells. Also, these cells would normally be discarded and put to no use. This debate has left political figureheads left with the fact that any decision made can be considered to be left at a reevaluation of positions. In ’73 a moratorium was placed on the government for federal funding of stem cell research. Then in ’88 a NIH panel voted 19 to 2 in favor of federal funding for research. In ’90 Congress voted to veto that overrode the moratorium on federal funding. Which was then vetoed by George Bush then lifted by Clinton, but changed his mind after a public outcry to him about religion. Thus banned in ’95. Again in 2000 it was allowed , but only on pre- existing aborted fetuses and or stem lines. Though the decision to give federal funding was difficult, Bush decided to give way to stem cell lines that are already in various stem cell facilities, but leaving all excess embryos (over 100,000) left to be discarded in these facilities. He said that had to take upon this issue with great care. He left the funding for adult stem cell research at 250,000 dollars per year. In Novembers 2004 election California had a Stem Cell research funding ballot that won 60% to 40% and has established the California Institute for Regenerative Health to regulate the cost of research and the research facilities. Before it was as simple as a mother who willingly signs to donate her embryo after independently deciding to abort pregnancy, but now that has been destroyed. Political debate has crippled the thought of having a faster way of acquiring these cells for research, but still continues and gives everyone a chance to prove what human life has to offer even at the brink of death or destruction. Stem cells can be a new light for many and give those dying a chance for survival, but if lives are to be taken away for that, what is the price for our actions and is it worth it? This debate is no where near over and the future of the living and “living” is at hand and it is not something that any of these side will easily give in to. Some believe it is a personal right to be able to have abortions and donate their offspring to the future of mankind and some stick to their morale ethics because, it is what they believe. There is only one answer and no mid-point between them.