Embryonic stem cell research holds unique promise for developing therapies for currently incurable diseases and conditions, and for important biomedical research. However, the process through which embryonic stem cells are obtained involves the destruction of early human embryos. Katrien Devolder focuses on the tension between the popular view that an embryo should never be deliberately harmed or destroyed, and the view that embryonic stem cell research, because of its enormous promise, must go forward. She provides an in-depth ethical analysis of the major philosophical and political attempts to resolve this tension. One such attempt involves the development of a middle ground position, which accepts only types or aspects of embryonic stem cell research deemed compatible with the view that the embryo has a significant moral status. An example is the position that it can be permissible to derive stem cells from embryos left over from in vitro fertilisation but not from embryos created for research. Others have advocated a technical solution. Several techniques have been proposed for deriving embryonic stem cells, or their functional equivalents, without harming embryos. An example is the induced pluripotent stem cell technique. Through highlighting inconsistencies in the arguments for these positions, Devolder argues that the central tension in the embryonic stem cell debate remains unresolved. This conclusion has important implications for the stem cell debate, as well as for policies inspired by this debate.
Few people know much about stem cell research beyond the ethical questions raised by using embryos. But in the last decade, stem cell research has made huge advances toward eliminating some of our most intractable diseases. Now this sweeping and accessible book introduces us to this cutting-edge science that will revolutionize medicine and change the way we think about and treat disease.
Alice Park takes us from stem cell’s controversial beginnings to the recent electrifying promise of being able to create the versatile cells without using embryos at all. She shows us how stem cells give researchers an unprecedented ability to study disease while giving patients the promise of replacing diseased cells with healthy new ones. And she profiles the scientists and leaders-many with their own compelling stories-who have fueled the quest and will continue to shape the field in years to come.
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Embryonic stem cells have been hot-button topics in recent years, generating intense public interest as well as much confusion and misinformation. In this Very Short Introduction, leading authority Jonathan Slack offers a clear and informative overview of stem cells–what they are, what scientists do with them, what stem cell therapies are available today, and how they might be used in the future. Slack explains the difference between embryonic stem cells, which exist only in laboratory cultures, and tissue-specific stem cells, which exist in our bodies, and he discusses how embryonic stem cells may be used in the future to treat such illnesses as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, spinal trauma, and retinal degeneration. But he stresses that, despite important advances, the clinical applications of stem cells are still in their infancy and that most real stem cell therapy today is some form of bone marrow transplantation. Slack concludes by analyzing how medical innovation has occurred in this area in recent years and he draws out some of the lessons for the development of new therapies in the future.