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Tara Parker Pope always has great articles in her Health blog on the New York Times website. One of her more recent ones pertains to the fate of embryos created to help infertile couples who end up not using all of them.
Here is my problem with the naysayers who cry foul because embryos are being used for embryonic stem cell research. While they are embryos, by definition, they are not remotely multi-systemic entities. The embryos in question are, in fact, cell masses of mostly totipotent stem cells (this is also a correction to the comment I made on TPP’s blog where I said they are not embryos when in fact, they are still classified as such). I feel like it is made out by some camps like babies are being slaughtered to save lives. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but you get the picture. Perhaps more realistically, it is not as if 3-4 week old embryos are being killed to harvest stem cells. They look a bit more like this. In fact, at that stage, they would have few stem cells if any at all. Whatever they would have would have limited differentiating potential.
Why should hundreds, if not thousands to tens of thousands, of these cell masses go to waste. Understandably, some should be saved, if a couple wishes to have another child, but it is not as if each couple will need or be able to use all the embryos that are created. Meanwhile, there are several neurological disorders (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, neurological trauma) and cancers, among other disorders, that could benefit directly from stem cell research and certain stem cell therapies. Those victims are being neglected. I hope this next Presidential administration brings a repeal of the legislation that has been preventing new stem cell lines from being used for research, and allows stem cell research to march forward instead of stagnating.
What’s your take?
This made me very happy. The theory, to date, has always been that neurons are differentiated to the point that they cannot replicate in the event of any sort of damage. Hence, if you lose a neuron, you can’t replace it. This has been the problem in dealing with diseases and conditions that are characterized by targeted or widespread loss of certain neural pathways: Parkinson’s and dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, Alzheimer’s and acetylcholinergic neurons, heck ecstasy use and 5-HT (serotonin) pathways, etc. etc.
The results of this study are promising: they were able to generate functioning tissues (not just cells) from stem cells. Besides serving as another way to study neurological conditions, perhaps without so much of a need for rat or other models, the fact that functioning neural tissue can be generated means that several diseases characterized by a loss of neural tissue may be able to be cured.
Now to deal with the matter of funding stem cell research more strongly…