Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Essay

2167 words - 9 pages

When does life begin? This four-word sentence has vexed scientists and ethicists for years. Does life begin the moment the egg is formed or the moment that egg is fertilized and becomes an embryo? Does it begin days later when the cells within that embryo begin communicating with each other and deciding which will be the hair, the heart, the brain, the eyes, and so forth? Does life begin 40 days after conception, as some religions believe this is the moment a soul is breathed into the embryo (Peters, Lebacqz and Bennett, 2008)? What if we could agree that a single cell is not life, just yet, but a potential piece of life? These are the questions that stem cell researchers have faced and fought since the first human embryonic stem cell was cultured in 1998 by a man named James Thompson, a researcher from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Fox, 2007). Since his achievement, government regulations have been imposed and the issue so hotly debated that the field of stem cell research has nearly turned into the same kind of scenario faced by doctors at abortion clinics. The lack of suitable stem cells is what holds human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research from progressing further. In order to allow hESC research to develop, more hESC lines should be approved for clinical studies because research has shown that the longer a cell line is used, the more susceptible to mutations it is; also, more opportunities for research will arise and more potential cures for deadly diseases will be discovered.
In order to understand what hESC research is all about, one must understand what a hESC is and how it is obtained. The process begins when a woman ovulates. In a woman’s ovaries, there may be a dozen or more eggs. The natural process allows one egg to be released while the others die and are absorbed back into the body. If the egg is fertilized, it becomes a zygote and cell division begins. On the fifth day, the cells form a sphere-like shell for the other cells to divide in, called a blastocyst. There are approximately 30 cells inside the blastocyst that differentiate into the three types of major tissue layers. Those 30 cells are the stem cells (NRC, 2001). When collected through the in-vitro fertilization process, scientists extract those 30 cells and place them in a culture to help them proliferate and to keep them healthy and stable.
The major problem that hESC researchers have encountered is that, in 2001, former President Bush declared that only a small number of hESC lines would be approved and given federal funding. In fact, only twelve hESC lines were approved and they were of “questionable quality” because they were derived in hESC research infancy when very little was known about the process. What makes these twelve hESC lines even less suitable is that they were cultured in mouse feeder-cells, rendering them useless for clinical applications as they take on animal elements that could include viruses (Fox, 2007). More money...

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