Friday, October 1, 2010

Ought we to pursue stem cell research?

Harvard researchers creates stem cells from skin
October 1, 2010 by MassDevice staff

Researchers at Harvard Medical School create induced pluripotent stem cells from skin, sidestepping the use of human embryos to derive stem cell lines.

Researchers at Boston's Harvard Stem Cell Institute discovered a way to reprogram human skin cells so that they become stem cells, bypassing the creation of stem cell lines from human embryos.

Research published in the journal Cell Stem Cell details how the team, led by Derrick Rossi, used RNA from stem cells to transform ordinary skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells. The technique avoids using a virus to carry new genes into the cells — and the controversial destruction of human embryos to derive stem cells.

That technique is at the heart of high-profile legal wrangling between the U.S. government and two researchers who sued to stop federal funding of research using stem cells from embryos. Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled late in the summer that federal funds could not be used for the the research, derailing scores of projects looking into the causes of diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cystic fibrosis. President Barack Obama had sought to restore stem cell research funding from constraints imposed under the Bush administration, but Lamberth ruled that the policy violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, aimed at stopping the destruction of human embryos. This week a three-judge panel on a federal appeals lifted Lamberth's injunction barring the funding.

Now Rossi's team's discovery may make the case a moot point.

"This is going to be very exciting to the research community," Rossi told the Washington Post. "We now have an experimental paradigm for generating patient-specific cells highly efficiently and safely and also taking those cells to clinically useful cell types."

In fact, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute has already ordered its scientists to switch to the new process, according to the Post.

"All I can say is 'wow' — this is a game changer," added Dr. Robert Lanza, a stem cell researcher at Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass. "It would solve some of the most important problems in the field."

"This paper is a major paper, in my view, in the field of regenerative medicine," added Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, according to the Post.


  1. As a society that prides itself in caring for others, the benefits of stem cell research most certainly outweigh the harms. Specifically related to the article released today, it seems completely harmless for this type of research since it avoids the destruction of embryonic cells.

    If the simple use of a normal skin cell may cause the discovery of a cure or relief from some of the largest diseases that American's face, then this scenario will only produce benefits. As a social group, it would be in our best interests to pursue medical research for the beneficence of others, especially if said research will prolong or increase the quality of life for those who may suffer from a disease. Even though embryonic cells are still a source of the material used to convert the epithelial cells into stem cells, there is no harm done. Therefore this research follows both beneficence and non-maleficence principles of ethics, and should most certainly be pursued.

  2. With the recent discovery of using skin cells for stem cell research, hopefully more people will support the movement. The benefits of stem cell research have the potential to be great. The ethical dilemma of destroying embryos for the use of research was opposed by many religions and individuals in the US. The dilemma was that of destroying a potential life, which some believed was murder. If the step of destroying a human embryo could be bypassed there is no real ethical dilemma in the situation. Using skin cells produces no harm towards others, or non-maleficience. The argument to use these cells is also supported by the utilitarian approach, to produce the most good for the most number of people. The use of cells for research could produce great advances in science to help treat and prevent many diseases, including Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries. One potential dilemma is that researchists request to continue to compare the research of skin cells with embryonic cells to make sure the memory of the skin cells does not produce complications. Therefore, while using skin cells is a step in the right direction, using embryonic cells still may be needed. The argument of utilitarians still can stand, as the research produces the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.

  3. This finding is remarkable. Stem cell research has always been a heated topic especially when it comes to the process of how one goes about getting these cells. Undoubtedly destroying a human embryo is the main issue many people have with stem cell research. This is an ethical situation. One must decide what is more harmful killing a human embryo but the potential benefits affecting all of human kind or not killing the embryo which is much more ethical but not being able to obtain this research. It is difficult to come to a conclusion about this predicament, but having discovered this new process of getting stem cells is unbelievable. The fact of the matter is no one person is being harmed if the cell comes from skin cells and the fact that many benefits can come from it is ethical. A problem that comes about with this research is how far can these scientists go? They become vulnerable to push the limits of their research, what are they going to ask for next? I believe as long as no human being is being harmed or doing this against their will there is really nothing wrong with this type of stem cell research. The information we could obtain as a human race from the study could be extremely beneficial to our society. This is taking a look at the situation from a consequential outlook which in this case i believe you must look at how this research is going to affect people after it is done.
    Shannon Doherty

  4. I agree that this finding changes the entire core ethical debate of stem cell research, and does indicate much more benefit than harm in pursuing research for the cures of many medical conditions. However, I also think that medicine tends to overeaggerate the need for finding new scientific knowledge and underappreciates the idea of investing in better ways of allocating resources with the knowledge we already have. People too often die of medical conditions that could be easily prevented with knowledge and technology we already have now, and so much more could be done for the world's majority without proper medical care. Stem cell research would certainly have a lot of benefit if it were to cure a particular medical condition, but it would most likely only have real benefits to those suffering from that relatively rare, specific condition who can also afford to be treated with the cure or who are lucky enough to be in a position to be treated. Unless funding is enough to sufficently support both new stem cell research and more distributive justice of health care, I think more resources should be spent on what will benefit the greater number.

  5. I think the advancements that we have seen as a society are magnificent but this is by far one of the best. I believe that using stem cells in order to solve many problems today is a great idea and I am so glad that scientists have been able to make such a great discovery of being able to use skin cells and further modify them to act the way we need them to use them in medical care. I had mixed feelings about stem cell research and its functions before because it involved the use of fetuses and along with some religions and groups around the world, who believe that this is wrong, i partly agreeing with these believes in some cases. Therefore, using skin cells is a harmless way to go further in today's stem cell research; something that could bring up great findings for everyone and help many of today's health issues. I hope that after this discovery the government will feel more confident in their funding for stem cell research and that this feeling will consequently spread to other nations causing everyone to realize that with this discovery more advancements that could impact all of us could eventually be made.

  6. Stem cell research should absolutely be pursued, especially with this new finding coming to light. The original argument against stem cell research was that it violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, saying that it harmed embryos. I can definitely see the ethical dilemma there. However, we invest money into cancer research and other types of research where animals are being used and subjected to painful experiments. We run drug trials on humans which could potentially have very harmful side effects. In terms of stem cell research, that potential harm has been eliminated. I would say that there are now only benefits to be had using stem cell research. It has the potential of taking healthcare to a new level and helping an infinite amount of people.

  7. Although stem cell research has always been a controversial topic of research using human embryos, this article solidifies the continuation of stem cell research from this new finding. Especially with this new discovery of just taking skin cells so they become stem cells is a dramatic change for this sector of research. It has always been a controversy of taking human embryos for research to benefit the general public and does this harm outweigh the benefits or not. However now that skin cells could be used this is less of a questionable topic that can be used as stated above to look into the causes of diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cystic fibrosis, which are diseases that are becoming more common within the population. Research has always been an arguable field in terms of the outcomes of the research (advantages, disadvantages, harms, benefits). However with the simplicity of taking skin cells into stem cells will lead to many more new discoveries and care that can benefit the population.
    Stephanie Joe

  8. I would agree that the main ethical dilemmas surrounding stem cell research have now been eliminated. Prior to this discovery, stem cell research which used embryonic cells was a very heated topic. Scientists were promoting the destruction of what was considered by some as a "life", for the possibility of great discoveries. This led to many ethical issues concerning what is actually considered a "life" and whether the benefits of possible discoveries could outweigh this damage.

    Now, however, it appears that this issue is nonexistent. The use of skin cells to create stem cells erases previous ethical dilemmas and opens a world of limitless possibility ranging from progress in the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson's to the possibility of paralysis reversal in the future. Stem cell research most definitely ought to be pursued.