Stem Cell Research: Miracle or Murder?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 Stef dela Cruz 4 Comments

Stem cell research is very controversial. Some support stem cell research as it tries to provide solutions to different conditions, including cancer, spine injury, and neurodegenerative diseases. Others, however, frown down on stem cell research and therapy because it makes use of human embryos.

International Symposium on Stem Cell Therapy

The Catholic community lobbies against embryonic stem cell research because it uses cells from human embryos, leading to their eventual demise. I got the chance to listen to both sides of the controversy when I covered the very first International Symposium on Stem Cell Therapy held at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Global City last April 2011. It was an interesting event, given how majority of the Philippine population was Catholic.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Why the Catholic Church Disapproves

There are different types of stem cell research, with embryonic stem cell research taking much of the heat from the Catholic community. Embryonic stem cell research, unlike adult stem cell research, makes use of stem cells derived from human embryos. During the symposium, advances on stem cell research were aired, and so were different ethical concerns. Find out what the mother of a cancer patient had to say about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research by reading on.

Writing an article on stem cell therapy was a welcome challenge. I am a doctor, but I am Catholic. The medical implications of stem cell research and therapy were interesting to me, but my Catholic faith kept me from approving of it wholeheartedly. I was torn by my profession and my faith, something a lot of other Filipino doctors can relate to.

Reverend Pacholczyk once said taking the lives of young human beings, whether they be little boys or little embryos, may benefit other more powerful, older, or wealthier people, but that does not make it ethical. Adult stem cell research is the fitting solution to this ethical dilemma, but researchers have realized one important fact: embryonic stem cells have more potential than adult stem cells.

Harvard University’s Dr. Piero Anversa aired his thoughts on the moral dilemma, saying that the crime lies in not using embryos after knowing that it just might provide the cure to AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other life-altering conditions.

However, stem cell therapy is no stranger, even in the Philippines. “For many years, stem cell therapy has been used to treat leukemia,” explained Dr. Francisco Lopez, the current head of the Stem Cell Unit at St. Luke’s. “Bone marrow transplant, which is the procedure used for certain types of leukemia and lymphoma, is based on stem cell research and therapy – it makes use of health stem cells derived from the bone marrow,” he added.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Breakthroughs

Dr. Dan Kaufman, who gave a lecture about pluripotent stem cells, shared the promising findings of his research. “Natural killer cells grown from stem cells have been shown to decrease the size of tumors in mice. In some mice, the tumors actually disappeared completely,” he said.

Dr. Dan Kaufman and Dr. Stef dela CruzDr. Kaufman of Harvard University

During the symposium, people of all races and opinions shared their views. There was an emotionally-loaded forum, with cancer patients hoping that stem cell research will be the answer to their prayers.

I have written about stem cell research and therapy for Big C magazine. You can also read my article on Stem Cell Therapy on Yahoo! Voices. I wrote about how stem cell therapy remains controversial to this day. But this controversy does not dampen the enthusiasm of researchers to find a cure for the maladies that affect recent society. Although the ethical concerns remain, one thing is for sure: there is no stopping stem cell research and therapy.

I will not forget the story shared by a mother whose daughter was suffering from pulmonary hypertension. After having spoken with doctors, patients, and laboratories all over the world, she has had a lot to say about the promises and pitfalls of stem cell therapy. To borrow her words, “There is definitely a dark side to stem cell research and therapy, but there is also hope. This hope may be hard to reach – but it’s there.”

Sources:
"Stem cell symposium at St. Luke's Medical Center", The Philippine Star
Tadeusz Pacholczyk, "Debating the Embryo's Fate", Catholic Education Resource Center

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She maintains a health column in Health.Care Magazine and a cat welfare column in The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene. Add her to your circles.

4 comments:

  1. If there's a hope in it...let's give it a chance.

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  2. No doubt that there is hope. The question is, is it ethical? That has always been the controversy surrounding stem cell research and therapy.

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  3. Stem Cells are very interesting that's why I choose this as my topic in my term paper. Anyway, thank you for the information, I think i'm ready for my defence. =)

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  4. Good luck! And check back to let me know how your defense went. :)

    ReplyDelete

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