Stem Cell Research

History of Stem Cell Research

What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are the basic building blocks of physiological tissue; they are not yet differentiated into specific types of tissue.  Through normal development, they will become every type of tissue in the human body.  They can also be transformed in the lab into needed tissues (for example, neurological or cardiovascular tissue).
Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells are taken from a human embryo when the embryonic human is approximately one week old and has grown to 100 cells.  These cells are not yet differentiated into specific tissues or organs.  They are called pluripotent, meaning that they have the potential to become any type of tissue.  
Stem cells in the embryonic stage of human development were first discovered over 20 years ago.  Scientists had hoped to use these cells to help rebuild damaged cells to treat spinal cord injuries and cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.  However, due to their instability, embryonic stem cells have failed to produce any medical treatment.  Besides the technical problem is the moral one: In obtaining embryonic stem cells, the human embryo is necessarily destroyed.
Adult Stem Cells
Adult stem cells are multipotent, meaning that they have the potential to become many types of tissue.  Adult stem cells are versatile, although they cannot currently be coaxed into becoming every type of tissue in the body.  Scientists believe that adult stem cells roam the body seeking to repair or replace damaged cells.  Adult stem cells can be taken from myriad sources: umbilical cord blood of born babies, placentas, skin, bone marrow, tooth dentin, the nasal cavity, and more.  When adult stem cells are extracted for medical research, no innocent human life is taken.  Adult stem cells have helped diabetic patients discontinue insulin use, cured children with defective immune systems, helped people with multiple sclerosis walk unassisted, and much more.  (For information on the many successes that adult stem cell research has seen, visit 
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
In 2007, Prof. Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan conducted a type of stem cell research referred to as “dedifferentiation.”  This new, more promising research creates embryo-like stem cells without human eggs and without creating and destroying human cloned embryos.  He has successfully transformed skin cells into “induced pluripotent stem cells” (IPSCs), which seem to be more versatile than adult stem cells and more stable than embryonic stem cells.  
Current Stem Cell Research
On August 23, 2010, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia enjoined an executive order that President Obama signed in March of 2009.  Obama’s executive order reversed the restrictions on government funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) put in place by former President George W. Bush in 2001.  Then, on September 9, 2010, a federal appeals court allowed the funding to proceed while it considers the August 23rd ruling.   In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Arlen Specter introduced a bill that would overturn the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which forbids the federal government from funding research that destroys human embryos.  The news seems to change weekly, so check our website at for the latest information.
Since Obama’s 2009 executive order, the National Institutes of Health adopted new guidelines to approve federal grants for ESCR.  For more than a year now, taxpayer dollars have funded research to manufacture human embryos with the intention of using these young lives in scientific research that requires their destruction. 
Dr. James Thomson, the doctor who discovered embryonic stem cells, has decided to focus his research on these induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs).  The two companies that he co-founded have now merged and will be shifting their focus to “products involving non-embryonic stem cells.”
Clearly, the scientific community cannot ignore the fact that cloning and embryonic stem cells have not produced any results, while IPSCs and adult stem cells have achieved remarkable breakthroughs.  Adult stem cells have already been curing patients, while research from the recently discovered IPSCs has already yielded cell lines from people suffering from a host of different diseases, perhaps allowing doctors to use patients’ own cells to treat genetic and other ailments.