PRIMER ON STEM CELLS AND HUMAN CLONING
WHAT REALLY ARE THE FACTS?
With all of the debate out there on stem cells and human cloning, a review of the issue should be helpful. Much of the following information on stem cells, what they are and what they do, was taken from the National Institutes of Health website over the years – (http://stemcells.nih.gov/). Quotations from #1 below are from the NIH website on stem cells [Stem Cell Basics].
1. What are stem cells and where are they found in the body?
“Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.”
“Stem cells are distinguished from other cell types by two important characteristics. First, they are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through cell division, sometimes after long periods of inactivity. Second, under certain physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions. In some organs, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues. In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, discrete populations of adult stem cells generate
replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease.”
2. How are adult stem cells used to help people?
Science has found that adult stem cells work in the body to repair and replace the cells and tissues of some organ. For years, scientists have taken bone marrow, containing adult stem cells, from a healthy person and transplanted it into the bone marrow of a cancer patient whose immune system has been weakened by disease and/or treatments. The transplanted bone marrow contains stem cells to help regenerate cells and the immune system of the patient.
The National Marrow Donor Program website (www.marrow.org) lists quite a number of diseases currently treatable by stem cell transplants, including acute and chronic leukemias, Hodgkin’s Disease and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, sickle cell disease, and various cancers.
Cord blood stem cells are currently being used in the treatments of a wide range of cancers, genetic diseases, immune system deficiencies and blood disorders in similar ways. Viacord, a commercial cord blood bank, states on its website (www.viacord.com) that cord blood (stem cells) is used in the treatment of nearly 80 life-threatening diseases, including leukemias, lymphomas, various anemias, and cancers. Additionally, adult stem cells have helped people with diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
3. What diseases are currently being treated by human embryonic stem cells?
None! There is not one study showing that any person has been helped with human embryonic stem cells! There have been trials, but no final conclusions. Supporters of embryonic stem cells had many opportunities to show the benefits of human embryonic stem cells, but produced nothing. Those who opposed using embryonic stem cell research have showed the many benefits to humans from adult and cord blood stem cells. Adult stem cells and cord blood stem cells help thousands of people each year. Some researchers complain they could make progress with human embryonic stem cells if only they could get funding and get their hands on live human embryos from in-vitro fertilization clinics. However, destroying new human lives for experimentation is immoral and unethical, and it is clear that the advances these researchers seek can
probably be done better and sooner with adult stem cells.
4. What is human cloning and what has human cloning to do with the stem cell
Human cloning is the term used by scientists to describe the process of creating new life by making duplicates of biological material. The cloning technique used to clone Dolly the sheep is called “somatic cell nuclear transplantation”. This is the same technique for cloning a human being. The process involves removing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg and replacing it with the nucleus of a somatic cell. [A somatic cell is any cell of the human body, except sperm or ovum cells (called germ cells). Thus, your skin cell is a somatic cell and contains in its nucleus the 46 chromosomes that you received from your mother (23 chromosomes) and your father (23 chromosomes) that make you unique.] The unfertilized egg with the now transplanted nucleus is stimulated by an electrical stimulus to make it start to divide and grow and if it does begin to grow, it is a live human being.
As Frankensteinian and unnatural as this is, a new human life will be created by human cloning. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research, besides promoting human embryonic stem cell research, also promote research of “somatic cell nuclear transplantation”, and say that this cloned product is not a human being since the embryo was not fertilized with a sperm. However, Dolly the sheep was cloned in the same manner without a sheep sperm and it was implanted into a sheep and was born a sheep.
Researchers in Illinois seek human cloning because they know that cloning will produce human embryos and they can take the stem cells from these embryos (which will kill these new human lives). They know there are not enough human embryos at Illinois in-vitro fertilization clinics (live human embryos at these clinics are estimated at around 4,000) to supply all the stem cells they want to use. Publicly sanctioned cloning is important to these researchers.
Prepared by Ralph Rivera with Illinois Right to Life Action.