What are stem cells?

“A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to divide (self replicate) for indefinite periods. Under the right conditions, or given the right signals, stem cells can give rise (differentiate) to the many different cell types that make up the organism. That is, stem cells have the potential to develop into mature cells that have characteristic shape and specialized functions, such as heart cells, skin cells, or nerve cells.” Scientists envision drawing from “lines” of stem cells – colonies of similar cells that can replicate for long periods – to create new specialized cells for transplant into patients, to repair or replace tissues that disease and disability have damages.1

Where are stem cells found?
In the adult organism (“adult” referring to humans or animals any point after birth) stem cells are found in the bone marrow, blood stream, brain, spinal cord, dental pulp, skeletal muscle, skin, gastrointestinal tract, cornea, retina, liver and pancreas. Another rich source of stem cells is the blood within umbilical cords and placentas no longer needed by newborn babies.1 New research shows human fat contains stem cells.2 The stem cells receiving the most public attention are found within human embryos. researchers harvest these cells by pulling the “inner cell mass,” the 30-34 cells that will develop into the baby’s tissues and organs, from the center of a five-day-old embryo.1

What is the problem with stem cell research?
Adult stem cell research is not controversial; no human being dies when these cells are collected. The moral problem arises because stem cell harvesting from embryos would destroy them.3There is a very chilling similarity to the Jewish holocaust victims who were used as available sources solely for research purposes. Today, we can see such actions as crossing a critical moral line where human dignity is no longer the first priority. Once we approve killing one human being to save the life of another, where do we stop? Why not calculate an individual’s quality of life or projected social contribution and determine whether or not someone else is entitled to his or her organs? This kind of scientific progress is indeed a cold comfort for “spare parts.”

Is embryonic stem cell research justified?

Human emryonic stem cells (ESCs) have not yet successfully treated disease.4 Currently, the National Institutes of Health says that “any therapies based on the use of human ES cells are still hypothetical and highly experimental.” Scientists are still unsure how to induce the cells to change into the desirable types of cells needed for treatment. There are other problems including: the tendency of ESCs to form tumors when they are transplanted, unstable expression of traits contained in the cells’ genes, immune rejection and the risk of passing animal viruses to humans because formulas of animal cells are used to keep ESCs growing.1, 2

What is the current state of research on adult stem cells?

Doctors already use adult stem cells to treat a host of human disease, including cancers, autoimmune diseases, stroke, cartilage and bone damage, and blood and liver disease. Scientists are continually discovering new capabilities of adult stem cells. There is also evidence of a universal adult stem cell that can change into any cell of the body.1,4,5-6Despite the reported “promise” of embryonic stem cells, stem cells from adults are the ones that have been delivering true therapy. Dr. Donald Orlic of the National Human Genome Research Institute states, “We are currently finding that these adult stem cells are functioning as well, perhaps even better than, embryonic stem cells.”7

Notes:
1. NIH, Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Research Directions, 6/01
2. Weiss, Washington Post, 4/10/01; 7/6/01
3. National Bioethics Advisory Comm., Ethical Issues in Stem Cell Research, 9/99
4. Prentice Testimony, www.stemcellresearch.org
5. Goodman, Salt Lake Tribune, 7/1/01
6. Ramiya, Nature Medicine, 3/00

Partial List of Medical Conditions Assisted by Adult Stem Cell Research in Human Patients

CANCERS

1. Brain Cancer
2. Retinoblastoma
3. Ovarian Cancer
4. Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma
5. Testicular Cancer
6. Tumor Abdonimal Organs Lymphoma
7. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
8. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
9. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
10. Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
11. Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
12. Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia
13. Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia
14. Cancer of the Lymph Nodes: Angioimmunoblastic Lymphadenopathy
15. Multiple Myeloma
16. Myelodysplasia
17. Breast Cancer
18. Neuroblastoma
19. Renal Cell Carcinoma
20. Soft Tissue Sarcoma
21. Various Solid Tumors
22. Ewing’s Sarcoma
23. Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia
24. Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis
25. Poems Syndrome
26. Myelofibrosis

AUTO-IMMUNE DISEASES

27. Diabetes Type I (Juvenile)
28. Systemic Lupus
29. Sjogren’s Syndrome
30. Myasthenia
31. Autoimmune Cytopenia
32. Sclermyxedema
33. Schleroderma
34. Crohn’s Disease
35. Behcet’s Disease
36. Rheumatoid Arthritis
37. Juvenile Arthritis
38. Multiple Sclerosis
39. Polychondritis
40. Systemic Vasculitis
41. Alopecia Universalis
42. Buerger’s Disease

CARDIOVASCULAR

43. Acute Heart Damage
44. Chronic Coronary Artery Disease

OCULAR

45. Corneal Renegeration

IMMUNODEFICIENCIES

46. Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome
47. X-Linked Lymphoproliferative Syndrome
48. X-Linked Hyper Immunoglobulin M Syndrome

NEURAL DEGENERATIVE DISEASES & INJURIES

49. Parkinson’s Disease
50. Spinal Cord Injury
51. Stroke Damage

ANEMIAS & OTHER BLOOD CONDITIONS

52. Sickle Cell Anemia
53. Sideroblastic Anemia
54. Aplastic Anemia
55. Red Cell Anemia
56. Amegakaryocytic Thrombocytopenia
57. Thalassemia
58. Primary Amyloidosis
59. Diamond Blackfan Anemia
60. Fanconi’s Anemia
61. Chronic Epstein-Barr Infection

WOUNDS & INJURIES

62. Limb Gangrene
63. Surface Wound Healing
64. Jawbone Replacement
65. Skull Bone Repair

OTHER METABOLIC DISORDERS

66. Hurler’s Syndrome
67. Osteogenesis Imperfecta
68. Krabbe Leukodystrophy
69. Ostepetrosis
70. Cerebral X-Linked Adrenoleukodystrophy

LIVER DISEASE

71. Chronic Liver Failure
72. Liver Cirrhosis

BLADDER DISEASE

73. End-Stage Bladder Disease

Medical Conditions Assisted by Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Human Patients

0

Adult stem cell research is already helping the sick today, while offering still greater hope for the future. Not only is embryo destructive research morally wrong, it has not cured anyone or anything. The reality is we can support the science of stem cells by finding cures and protecting life. In the words of Saint Pope John Paul II, “scientific research in the field of genetics needs to be encouraged and promoted, but, like every other human activity, it can never be exempt from moral imperatives; research using adult stem cells, moreover, offers the promise of considerable success.”

– Michigan Catholic Conference – www.adultstemcellinitiative.org