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reading1 - FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture,...

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Advanced Search Search First Things What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells by Maureen L. Condic Copyright (c) 2007 First Things (January 2007). Back at the beginning of 2002, there was considerable optimism regarding the promise that embryonic stem cells were said to hold for millions of people suffering from fatal or debilitating medical conditions. Stem cells derived from human embryos, it was claimed, provided the best hope for relief of human suffering. Despite the profound ethical concerns regarding the use of human embryos for medical and scientific research, many Americans embraced this promise and the seemingly miraculous hope it offered. The challenges facing embryonic stem cells were formidable. First, there was the concern that the cells and their derived tissue would be rejected by the patient’s immune system, requiring the patient to undergo lifelong immune suppression. The three proposed solutions to this incompatibility problem (generating large banks of stem cell lines, cloning human embryos to provide a source of cells that perfectly match the patient, or genetically engineering stem cells to reduce immune rejection) were either socially, scientifically, or morally problematic (or all three). Second, there was the serious problem that embryonic stem cells form tumors when transplanted to adult tissues, and the tumorogenic capability of these cells is difficult, if not impossible, to control. Finally, there was the disturbing fact that science had thus far provided essentially no convincing evidence that embryonic stem cells could be reliably differentiated into normal adult cell types, as well as the disturbing possibility that overcoming this barrier would prove a difficult scientific endeavor. Despite these concerns, many continued to regard embryonic stem cells with hope, believing that further research would overcome these difficulties and harness the power of embryonic stem cells for the benefit of mankind. Such optimists asserted that it was simply a matter of investing sufficient time, money, and research. Since 2002, considerable resources have been devoted to just such research. A recent query of the grant database maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that more than eighty research projects investigating human embryonic stem cells have been funded over the past five years. A research effort of this size represents millions of dollars in public money invested in the medical promise of embryonic stem cells. Indeed, the NIH reported to Congress in September of last year that anticipated spending on human embryonic stem cell research in 2006 was “just $24,300,000.” Since 2002, approximately nine hundred research papers have been published on investigations of human embryonic stem cells, with more than a thousand additional papers investigating the properties of embryonic stem cells derived from animals. Clearly, research on embryonic stem cells has advanced considerably over the past five
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This note was uploaded on 02/17/2011 for the course HK 253 taught by Professor Claxton during the Spring '10 term at Purdue.

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reading1 - FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture,...

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