Stem cell technology improves

By Madeline Keleher

Religious figures, scientists and ethicists remain locked in the stem cell debate, despite the recent development of an embryo-protective method of creating stem cells.

Robert Lanza of the biotech company Advanced Cell Technology published an article last week in Nature describing the new method.

The conventional way to obtain stem cells involves removing a mass of about 30 cells from a four to five-day-old embryo, or blastocyst. The new method differs from this in two important ways: one cell rather than a whole group of cells is removed, and the removal happens when the embryo consists of only eight cells. This way, the blastocyst can still develop and no embryos are destroyed.

Lanza and colleagues see their new method as a solution to the moral issues that trouble many people, including President Bush, who used the first veto during his administration to prevent federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Lanza’s article states that “the ability to create new stem cell lines and therapies without destroying embryos would address the ethical concerns of many.”

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The solution, however, is not that simple.

“The article hasn’t been reviewed by scientists and bioethicists yet, so it’s going to take some time before the government decides what course of action to take,” said White House spokesperson Alex Conant.

Todd Daly, an associate professor of theology and ethics at the Urbana Theological Seminary, said that while the new method is a step in the right direction, he is skeptical because it still involves altering the embryo.

“I have a problem with what happens when you remove that one cell,” Daly said. “With only seven out of eight cells, will an embryo be able to develop normally? We just don’t know.”

Daly also said that tampering with life, especially early life, is going too far and that disease and other natural hardships actually help humans develop.

“There’s something to be learned from suffering, to a certain degree,” Daly said.

He is not opposed to using non-embryonic stem cells to alleviate disease, however.

“Even as a Christian, how can you say this isn’t a good thing when Jesus himself healed people and even brought people back from the dead?” said Daly.

Indeed, stem cells do have the potential to treat many diseases. Unlike other cells, they can divide almost indefinitely and have the ability to become any type of body cell. Scientists hope one day to use stem cells to treat problems such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury, burns, heart disease and diabetes.

Jin Joo Lee, sophomore in Business, said she has been hospitalized five or six times since she came to the University due to her diabetes and had to withdraw from school during her first semester as a result.

She is hopeful that stem cells could one day lead to a cure for the disorder.

“I wouldn’t have to worry about taking shots or feeling embarrassed about it, and there would be no more costs for all the medication I need,” Lee said. “It would mean a normal life.”

But some bioethicists believe the cost of that life may be too high.

“This new method is a step forward, but it doesn’t alleviate any of the moral concerns,” Daly said.