My opinion on stem cell research

Although I am extremely reluctant to do so, I've been encouraged by some others in Geneforum to share my personal opinion of stem cell research. I suspect they will be surprised. In the stem cell poll that appears in the left column of the home page for Geneforum, my vote is among those in the 3rd category--my opinion on federal funding of stem cell research is based mostly on economic grounds. Even before the two hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast, I have been among those who feel that the U.S. federal government is spending our money inappropriately. There are so many other things we need to spend our money on--things that support life today. The opening of the World Stem Cell Hub in Korea has been of special interest to me because it means that another country, who deserves the economic boost, is focusing on research that is likely to provide amazing and unimagined applications in the future. We really need to operate as an international community, not just as one country. I agree with Insoo (see my interview with Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist) that the focuses of embryonic and adult stem cell research are different and that embryonic stem cell therapies for human diseases with a genetic component (for example, Type I diabetes) are a long way off in the future. There's no strong scientific reason to discard one type of research in favor of the other. I really don't know what I think about "true" embryonic stem cell research, where a human embryo, created by fertilization of an egg with a sperm, is destroyed. For somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)--at least the type performed by Hwang in Korea--I tend to think the way Hwang does (according to Insoo). It's a very special form of tissue culture, providing an opportunity for advancing our knowledge of disease therapy and our understanding of cells in a way simply not possible with adult stem cells. As I read about the long-term effects of bone marrow transplant--especially for young children--I am excited to think that there may be a way to avoid graft-versus-host disease that is all too common when cells are transferred between two different people. Wouldn't it be great to have cells immunologically identical to the recipient? If SCNT is the only way to get that, then I support the research. I have wondered, as a scientist and geneticist, what if blastocysts created in SCNT are not capable of developing into human beings? Human fertilization and implantation are such complex processes--often failing even in the best of conditions. Why have we automatically believed that the product of joining a somatic cell and an enucleated egg cell is a viable human embryo? Just because animals can be cloned, it doesn't mean that's what's being done in SCNT. And no, I definitely do not support human cloning! Please note, these are my opinions only, and may not reflect those of other members of Geneforum or its board. Your opinions are also welcome; use the comment mode in this blog to let others know what you think--and why. Marie Godfrey, PhD
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