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|Stem Cell Research|
Hope for the Future: Stem Cells
ABC, along with over 70 percent of the American public, supports federal funding for stem cell research. This research holds much promise for better understanding brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and autism, and spinal cord injury, and for developing new treatments and even cures for people with brain disorders. Human cellular models will allow researchers to explore the basic biology of the healthy brain, and help understand what goes wrong in the brains of individuals with brain disorders.
These disorders, and many others, are caused by damage to a patient’s cells and tissue. Stem cell research produces new cells that can become any specialized cell in the body, such as a brain cell or a heart cell. One benefit of stem cells is that their creation does not require knowledge about the causes of the disease (genetic or otherwise); thus, they are especially suited for disease states that have complicated or unknown etiologies.
Recent advances have allowed scientists to reprogram adult human skin cells, providing them with a new method for obtaining pluripotent stem cells, which can theoretically develop into almost any of the body’s roughly 200 cell types. The use of adult cells paves the way for creation of stem cells genetically matched to individuals. Importantly, this technique does not require the controversial use of eggs or destruction of human embryos as is necessary to derive embryonic stem cells. Although this research is in its infancy, initial characterization of these cells has so far shown them to mimic human embryonic stem cells.
ABC Opposes Human Reproductive Cloning
Along with all of the major scientific and professional medical societies, the ABC supports an immediate ban on human reproductive cloning. There is a difference, however, between stem cell research and reproductive cloning. Stem cell research produces new cells with the potential to become any specialized cell in the body; reproductive cloning aims to recreate an entire human being.
Researchers do many kinds of cloning, and most methods are long established and widely accepted. For example, accepted methods of cloning allow us to develop new drugs, catch criminals, and sequence the human genome. Stem cell research offers great promise for curing deadly diseases; it does not create people.
Stem cells may provide new treatments and perhaps cures for the 50 million Americans suffering from brain diseases or disorders. The ABC looks forward to working with the NIH and Congress to ensure that all opportunities in this field can be fully pursued within a sound ethical framework.