Monday, November 13, 2006
Should we use stem cells?
"Stem cells fend off lung cancer".
I just read a news article with this headline in the journal Science. Apparently, because stem cells are rather similar to cancer cells, the immune system adaptation that occur when you inject stem cells into the lung, will subsequently help the immune system kill cancer cells as well. That is, the immune system treats stem cells as invaders, why they develop a defense against these cells. If the same immune system, on a subsequent occasion, encounters a cancer cell it will, because of the strong resemblance, wrongly "assume" that it is another stem cell and therefore get rid of it. Out of 25 mice that were given stem cells, 20 were able to kill a subsequent cancer. A slightly altered compound increased the cancer survival rate to 100%!!! This should be compared to the 0% survival rate experienced by mice that did not get any compound.
Of course, this does not mean that we can cure cancer in humans, at least not yet. Mice for some reason tend to respond better to cancer therapies, but nevertheless, I think the figures above justifies some excitement. I think that stem cell research is one of the methods with the best potential. This research not only has the potential to cure cancer, but various other diseases and insults as well, including Parkinson disease, chronic pain, and strokes.
So what about the larger issue? Are stem cells individuals? I guess that if you believe that a cell with all the genes necessary to build a human being is an individual, then stem cell research is murder. However, if this is your belief then scratching your nose or stepping into a shower would be genocide. All the cells that die when you do one of these two things could produce an individual if you put it into an egg and allowed it to mature. So why should stem cells be protected as if they were full grown individuals? A fully conscious monkey, capable of feeling pain and stress, has barely any rights! That is puzzling to me. Furthermore I think not doing stem cell research is unethical, considering the huge potential. Not doing stem cell research is the same as saying to those who have Parkinson or those who are suffering from chronic pain, that "we care more about these few cells than we care about finding a cure for you".