Stem Cells at Stanford

A once hotly debated topic in American politics has resurfaced here at Stanford University.  A student group known as the SSSCR, or Student Society for Stem Cell Research, has started to take a more active role in student affairs here on campus, provoking outcries from various human rights groups.

What exactly does the SSSCR do that is offensive to others?  Well, put simply, it helps support and promote the goals of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.  One of the ways it does this is by educating high school students in the area about embryonic stem cell research.  According to the Institute’s webpage, the main goal is to “explore the potential of using embryonic stem cells to better understand and treat disease.”  To clarify, they are working with embryonic stem cells as opposed to adult stem cells.

Before we investigate further, a brief clarification of these two types of stem cells is required.  According to 21st Century Science and Technology Magazine, the idea behind stem cell research is to take stem cells, or cells with potential to reproduce and develop into a specialized group of cells, to create a cure for some of today’s most feared diseases, especially neurological ailments.  Adult stem cells are taken from the tissues of a growing human being, whereas embryonic stem cells are taken from a newly fertilized egg.  And here we have a glaring roadblock.  Many people believe that a fertilized egg is a human being in her earliest stages of life.  If this is true, then the purposeful destruction of embryos for research is clearly morally reprehensible.

Those in support of embryonic stem cell research claim that their stem cells have much greater potential than adult stem cells.  The Stanford Institute’s webpage says: “Unlike adult stem cells, embryonic, or pluripotent, stem cells are not restricted to any particular tissue or organ and are capable of producing all cell types.”  However, Science and Technology Magazine would have us believe otherwise: “Adult stem cells, on the other hand, are found in all tissues of the growing human being and, according to latest reports, also have the potential to transform themselves into practically all other cell types, or revert to being stem cells with greater reproductive capacity.”  So, aside from the possibility that embryonic stem cell research is destroying the lives of thousands and thousands of people, its perceived advantages over adult stem cell research are in question as well.

The most important goal of any research is to obtain successful results.  Let us look into the success rates of each type of stem cell after several years of research.  The Family Research Council reports that adult stem cells are currently treating over seventy-three different conditions and are the subject of over fourteen hundred FDA approved trials.  Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, have not progressed much farther than to have been successfully injected with DNA from a skin cell, CNN reports.  However, as Scientific American Magazine informs us, embryonic stem cell researchers have sheepishly admitted that their stem cells have quite successfully inflicted patients with cancer.

Finally there are those who argue that this huge differential in success is due to lack of research and support for embryonic stem cells.  Yet this could not be further from the truth.  Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News magazine informs us that embryonic stem cell research is receiving millions of dollars in funding from both the federal government and state governments, whereas adult stem cell research receives virtually nothing in comparison.  In other words, all our nation’s resources are focusing on the stem cell option that may be costing thousands of lives and has yet to prove its effectiveness, despite all the financial support.  Adult stem cells have been proven to cure diseases effectively and have recently been shown to have just as much potential as embryonic stem cells, but our nation chooses to ignore this.  Is there not cause for concern here?  Why is it that our society is determined to choose embryonic stem cells instead of adult stem cells?

The Stanford community should question the goals of the SSSCR and should stay informed of the issue of embryonic stem cell research, lest we allow them to teach us a one-sided view of stem cells, like they are to those poor high school students.  I commend those human rights groups on campus which have seen these glaring wastes of resources and who continue to fight for life through safe and sure ways of curing disease using adult stem cells.

Kenneth Capps is a Junior majoring in History. Please email him at [email protected] with any questions, concerns or comments.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review