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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Stem cell debate ended?

The benefits of previous stem cell research should not be ignored.

No embryos. No human eggs. Last week, two teams of scientists from Japan and the University of Wisconsin genetically reprogrammed human skin cells to replicate embryonic stem cells. Potentially, human skin cells could have the same sought-after healing affect as embryonic stem cells – but without any ethical controversy.

Since 2001, the United States has prohibited funding for most stem cell research. President George W. Bush vetoed a bill last year that would have ended this government ban, saying “it crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect.”

Up until now, stem cell research has been a part of the abortion debate. In order to use an embryonic stem cell, a human embryo is usually destroyed in the process. Stem cell funding, as a result of this recent discovery, should face less political and religious opposition as embryos will not be used. Human skin cells also provide an almost unlimited number of potential stem cells.

However, human skin cells altered to mimic stem cells are still a long way from being understood and used effectively in a medical setting. Currently, skin cells require a virus, which has the potential to develop into cancer, in order to convert to stem cells. Scientists maintain that though this advancement using human skin cells is promising, research using embryos should not stop.

The White House viewed this discovery as a victory for Bush as he has pushed for alternatives to embryos in stem cell research. Yet, without previous embryonic research – the destruction of embryos – the development of human skin cells as a substitute would have been impossible. The benefit of embryonic stem cell research is still proven.

As Congress will undoubtedly expand funding for research in human skin cell development, embryonic stem cell research should not be forgotten. The potential of human skin cells is simply another aspect in the research to end Alzheimer’s disease or cancer. Nothing should be ignored in the pursuit to end needless human suffering.

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