Research Ethics and Stem Cells
Stem cells show potential for many different areas of health and medical research, and studying them can help us understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are caused by problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions.
Research on one kind of stem cell—human embryonic stem cells—has generated much interest and public debate. Pluripotent stem cells (cells that can develop into many different cell types of the body) are isolated from human embryos that are a few days old. Pluripotent stem cell lines have also been developed from fetal tissue (older than 8 weeks of development).
As science and technology continue to advance, so do ethical viewpoints surrounding these developments. It is important to educate and explore the issues, scientifically and ethically. The NIH maintains a Department of Clinical Bioethics, and the NIH bioethics special interest group offers a list of online resources about the ethics of stem cell research.
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