Thursday, May 17, 2007

Stem Cell Research

The fifth episode of the Science Series on the Charlie Rose interview show on public television is an exploration of stem cell research. Five distinguished scientists, including Nobel laureate Paul Nurse, discuss the potential of this field of research for advancing science and developing treatment for a variety of health problems. Mouse stem cells were first reported in 1981, and human stem cells in 1998. This is really a new field of science.

The scientists were bemused about the success of opponents of stem cell research in characterizing a ball of 100 to 200 cells as a human being, especially given that tens of thousands of these balls of cells are discarded every year in the United States.

There seemed consensus that the Bush administration policy on stem cell research is misguided. Researchers are barred from utilizing hundreds of good cell lines in their research if they chose to accept federal funding. As a result, the research is progressing less rapidly than it might otherwise do. The limitations are militating against good young scientists entering stem cell research careers, as well as against many projects being undertaken, and against the reputation of U.S. science.

It will probably take years for stem cell research programs to yield medical benefits. The longer we wait to start the research programs, the later we will obtain those benefits. The delay will be measured in the suffering and deaths of people from heart and blood disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, and cancer.

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