As the scientific community continues to recognize stem cell research as a means to discover treatments for many common diseases, the use of embryos in the research has sparked debate on whether stem cell technology should be funded by the federal government.
A stem cell is a cell that has the potential and ability to become a number of different types of cells, depending on the conditions within the body to which the stem cell is exposed. From embryonic stem cells, different organs and tissues develop.
Cell and Developmental Biology and Anesthesiology Prof. Marie Csete uses adult stem cells in her research at the University.
In designing her research projects, Csete said she intentionally did not plan to use embryonic stem cells because she foresaw the current debate on the ethics of embryonic stem cell research.
“I didn”t want to have to backtrack,” Csete said.
She said although her research may not require embryonic stem cells now, keeping that option open to scientists is important.
“The reason why scientists are so concerned about access to these embryonic stem cells is the efficiency of adult stem cells in making muscle is less than in embryonic cells. Having (embryonic stem cells) in the future for us is going to be very important,” Csete said.
Csete is interested in why stem cells develop into the types of cells they do.
“We think that the stem cells use the gases around them to determine what kind of stem cell they will become,” Csete said.
When diabetes affects the body a person accumulates more fat cells than he or she would have without the disease, she said.
“In diabetes and aging, you lose a substantial amount of muscle and you accumulate fat in muscle. We feel that stem cells play an active roll in this process,” Csete said.
“We think if we understand which genes are being turned on that that will give us potential drug targets. (We want to) turn the stem cells on to their maximum muscle producing effect,” she added.
Students For Life President Andrew Shirvell, an LSA senior, said although his group believes scientists should do everything they can to relieve suffering, using embryos should not be practiced in research.
“The group agrees that we”re opposed to the leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization being used for research,” Shirvell said.
He said his group believes an embryo should have the same rights as a developed human.
“Just because they”re frozen doesn”t mean they”re any less of a human being,” Shirvell said.
Shirvell said Students For Life stands by research crediting adult stem cells with as much potential in research as embryonic stem cells.
“If adult stem cells are as effective as embryonic stem cells why not just use the adult stem cells? We”re opposed to embryonic stem cell research. We oppose anything that would end human life artificially,” Shirvell said.
Csete said while she practices medicine, she is reminded of the enormous need for technology that could come of stem cell research.
“I have constant reminders in my practice that a large percent of the population is affected by terminal disease. I think it”s unethical to stop the research when we have the ability to help people,” Csete said.
She said she is troubled that people who can be helped by this research may not be helped.
“I”m very concerned that people who would otherwise have degenerative diseases and could be helped by this research will be directly harmed without this research,” Csete said.
A large amount of the research dollars the University receives is from the federal government.
“A huge source for research is through the National Institutes of Health. The amount of money that comes directly from the NIH to the University is enormous,” Csete said.
Csete said although she does not think money will be taken from embryonic stem cell research, the effects would be devastating to the University.
Shirvell said he and Students For Life think President Bush should stop federally funding embryonic stem cell research.
“He did make that campaign promise,” Shirvell said. “He”s really caving into pressure. He”s following the political winds.”