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".


Anonymous said...

...but what if, there is, say, a lack of stem cells in a region? Do you encourage/force women (and their partner) to undergo in vitro? Just to produce individuals (embryos) ?

Isn't an individual alive for his/her OWN sake? Or are we storages for spare parts?


rasmussenanders said...

No, I do not think we are storages for spare parts and of course I do not favour forcing women to give up their eggs.

However, the current situation is that we could, for a very low cost/risk, obtain perhaps the most valuable tool for developing cures for some of the most dreaded diseases out there. If people want to give away or sell their embryos to help this goal I do not see why we should prevent this.

Anonymous said...

OK, of course i also expect there to soon be a cure for alzheimers, cancer and whatnot. I agree.

But my conscience is not clear: I ask myself the crucial & interesting question:

At what point did YOU begin to exist?

(All i'm saying is that it's easy for us born people to objectify and decide the fate of those who are not yet through this vulnerable phase. After all, none of us joining the debate are affected by any decisions concerning embryos/fetuses. We are not them. They cannot speak to us.

Why should anyone else decide whether i should become a spare part or not?)


Anonymous said...

But i'm curious:

At what point do you think you began to exist?


rasmussenanders said...

Sorry about the late response,

I now see that this is another version of the "murder" argument. Destroying an embryo is the same as destroying a full grown individual, because, after all, those cells will develop into a fully conscious person just like a child will become a grown person.

As you might have guessed from reading my original post I do not consider 8 or 16 stem cells to be an individual (I believe this is when they normally stop the process). Like I wrote, you could make an individual from a skin cell as well, if you put it in the right environment.

When do we begin to exist? My answer is when our brain has reached a somewhat sophisticated stage, when we are to some extent conscious feeling individuals. It is of course hard to say an exact time when this happens. I it more like a process, the longer into the pregnancy one goes the more problematic it becomes to end it. When there are merely 16 non-nerve cells I see no problem whatsoever.
I feel much more for the common fly or rat, which people kill without much consideration

Anonymous said...

I understand that my argument didn't consider other animals than humans. Sorry about that (i care about them and actually, i don't feel so good about eating meat, due to the treament of, e.g. birds).

Some of my friends (two vegans) see other creatures as more valuable than e.g. a fetus. That's ok, but when it comes to the iNDIVIDUAL, the ME, they all change their minds, or seem a bit insecure.

Do they understand that the Me is a serious question for all other inhabitants on Tellus as well? They have feelings too.

But thank you for your answer. And for contemplating my question.

Nihonshu said 3-4 years after birth.

I think everyone should ask themselves this question. I mean, from what point was it NOT o.k. for others to end my life?


By the way, donoring organs is ok. Benefit for others.