Proponents of embryonic stem cell research are celebrating the Food and Drug Administration’s January 23 decision to approve human testing of embryonic stem cells in research aimed at repairing spinal cord injuries. The first studies will focus on the safety of the treatment and are scheduled to begin by summer.
It should be noted that the embryonic cells to be used in this particular research were created before the Bush administration banned federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in 2001. However, it raises hopes that President Obama, along with Congress, may lift the controversial ban.
The cells to be used in this particular study were left over in fertility clinics, destined to be discarded. Consent of the parents is required. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research object on the grounds that removal of the cells destroys the embryo.
Embryonic stem cells hold much promise because for a brief time, they have the ability to transform into any cell in the body, potentially reversing damage due to injury or illness.
In addition to treating spinal cord injuries, researchers are hopeful that embryonic stem cells will be useful in treating type 1 diabetes, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and a host of other illnesses and injuries.
What does the FDA’s decision mean for people who suffer from chronic illness or profound disability? Every bit of research is a step forward, but it will be years, or perhaps decades, before we can be certain that embryonic stem cells will be able to help. Research today represents hope for tomorrow.
Despite this decision, and despite the new administration, the heated debate over the ethics of using embryonic stem cells will not dissipate any time soon.
Speaking of former President Reagan’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Nancy Reagan is quoted as saying, “There are so many diseases that can be cured or at least helped. We have lost so much time already and I just really can’t bear to lose anymore. Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this I’m determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain.” President Reagan himself opposed embryonic stem cell research.
Do you, or a loved one, suffer from chronic disease or profound disability? How has that affected your view on the subject?