Bioethics: October 2006 Archives

Scientists have been using embryos from destroyed human organisms to investigate treatments for Parkinson's disease. The hope was to get these undifferentiated cells to take on the characteristics of the cells in the brain so that damaged brain cells could be replaced by the stem cells. Except from explicitly social conservative news outlets, all the press this kind of research has been getting has been nothing but favorable. Hardly anyone in the mainstream news mentions the obstacles in getting embryonic stem cells to work in this way, as opposed to the successes already achieved in using adult stem cells. Even if there is more potential good that might be accomplished by embryonic stem cells, it strikes me as a little dishonest to report only that and to ignore that actual success of adult stem cells and the difficulties with embryonic stem cells that have yet to be overcome. So there is already reason to suspect dishonesty in the news media on hiding some facts related to this research.

Even so, I have nowhere seen any mention of actual harm that this technique might cause (apart from the harm caused to the embryos themselves, of course), even among socially conservatives. Yet apparently there's long been a worry among scientists that this kind of stem cell technique would cause a different effect once the cells were at work in the brain. Undifferentiated cells have a real danger. They do not have the instructions regular brain cells have, and they need to absorb those. The hope was that they would. But what happens when cells in a part of the body do things they're not supposed to do? They become tumors. There are now indications that this may very well happen if this research goes forward with human beings. According to the article, this is something "scientists have long feared". Why, then, has hardly anyone been reporting that this kind of problem might occur? I would have expected at least those who are more conservative on this issue to mention it now and then, but I've never heard it from anyone. Are the scientists themselves hiding it so as not to decrease even further their chances of getting funding?

[hat tip: Cold Hearted Truth]

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