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Bringing Stem Cell Research Into Focus

By Fazale Rana - November 1, 2005

Even though they can't be seen without a microscope, embryonic stem cells are in full view of the public's eye. This interest in stem cell research has generated a number of radio interviews for me over the last year, in many instances on secular radio stations. These interviews present a timely opportunity to offer a Christian perspective on stem cell research. Frequently I am asked if I oppose. My reply: "I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research, since it involves the destruction of human embryos. I do, however, support adult stem cell research."

Biomedical scientists promise that embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) will one day lead to effective treatments for debilitating diseases (such as Parkinson's disease and type I diabetes) and injuries (such as spinal cord damage). I point out that much is made of the potential benefits of ESCs, yet, little is said about the very real problems associated with them.

Researchers have known for some time that when implanted into tissues, ESCs tend to form tumors. Recent research further accentuates this problem. It shows that over time ESCs accumulate mutations commonly observed in human cancers.

Another problem confronts ESC technology—rejection. Most people know that during organ transplant procedures, if the donor and recipient are not compatible the recipient's body rejects the organ. Few people realize, however, that the same incompatibility problems apply to ESCs. It's almost certain that the recipient's body will treat incompatible ESCs as foreign material and reject the cells before they can deliver any benefit. In the face of these serious risks, it makes little sense for the biomedical research community to pursue ESCR, particularly since so many other concerns, especially ethical concerns, surround this technology.

Media exposure allows me to explain to people outside of RTB that circumspection becomes even more compelling in light of recent (unexpected) advances in adult stem cell research (ASCR). Studies have shown that some types of ASCs can be used to treat diseases and injuries that the biomedical research community thought could only be addressed using ESCs. ASCs pose no ethical problems because these cells are isolated harmlessly from adult tissues. ASCs raise no concerns about rejection because the donor and recipient are one and the same. In fact, ASCs are now being evaluated in clinical studies, and some promising preliminary results are already in hand.

These amazing advances have prompted many in the biomedical research community to focus attention on ASC technology. It is ASCR—not ESCR—that offers more promising remedies for many horrific diseases and injuries. Reasons To Believe is playing an important role in communicating how these latest scientific breakthroughs provide the means to uphold the sanctity of human life.

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