Saturday, April 11, 2009

More on Embryonic Stem Cells (For the not-so-dummies)

E. Christian Brugger, Ph.D., Senior Fellow in Ethics

Because of heightened interest in my last piece, Stem Cells for Dummies, I decided to pursue further questions pertaining to scientific interest in embryonic stem cells (ESCs).

Pluripotent stem cells: elixirs of lifeRecall we said that ESCs possess the quality of pluripotency, that is, the ability to develop themselves from an undifferentiated cellular state into most any differentiated cell type in the human body. This wide-ranging capacity for differentiation—this pluripotency—is the coveted property of ESCs. Defenders of the research dream of a day when the powers of ES cell pluripotency have been fully harnessed. They reason: since degenerative diseases (such as Parkinson’s, Leukemia, Alzheimer’s, cardiac, liver and kidney disease, Lou Gering’s Disease … you name it) are caused by various kinds of tissue failure; if we can just control the regeneration of tissue by controlling the differentiation mechanisms of ESCs, we can definitively conquer degenerative disease! The lame shall walk, the blind shall see, and all sick persons know the good news. But we need embryos, lots of embryos.

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