Neil D. Theise, Stem Cell Research: Elephants in the Room

Issues in Law & Medicine, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Neil D. Theise, Stem Cell Research: Elephants in the Room


78 MAYO CLINIC PROC. 1004 (2003).

The biggest elephant by far is the embryonic versus adult stem cell debate. It has conditioned research agendas, funding patterns, and publication or rejection of data, i.e., every aspect of and the scientific discourse around new findings. Some of the influence has been positive; much has been negative.

The initial reports of adult stem cell plasticity--blood to muscle, brain to blood, blood to liver--were heralded by Science as the "scientific breakthroughs of 1999." Naturally, the reports were immediately controversial. Chipping at decades-old encrustations of dogma, the revolutionaries were having a field day, while the dogmatists and guardians of doctrine were soon beside themselves. All in all, this activity occurred during an exciting but essentially normal time in the world of science, emblematic of the passionate engagement that is the best of science and the best of scientists. It was not certain whether the aforementioned three reports, and the rapid follow-up studies, would survive the test of time; but it was clear that this was more than a single laboratory reporting "cold fusion."

Alas, it was around this time that the controversy about the use of embryonic stem cells flared. The first influence of this simultaneity was felt in the "meaning" attached to adult stem cell research. Immediately, the single most important feature of the research was that it could be used for therapeutic purposes. All subsequent funding applications, nearly all the research, and all the scientific editorializing would swirl around the practical applications of the findings, not about the "pure" science of finding out how our bodies work. From this moment forward, research into adult stem cell plasticity would always be looked at, first and foremost, through the lens of therapeutic applicability, rather than simple curiosity about the body.

Worse yet, the study of adult stem cells became inextricably tangled with that of embryonic stem cells. A similar political engagement in biomedical research flared in the mid-1990s with debates about use of fetal tissues; the political shift in America that followed the 1998-1999 change in American government created the chance for the anti-abortion lobby seized on a potent, very simple formula: if adult stem cells could do everything embryonic stem cells could do, then embryonic stem cell research is not necessary. The Mayo Clinic report that a single transplanted marrow stem cell could, through clonal expansion, generate tissues of mesodermal, endodermal, and ectodermal lineages was seized quickly by the antiabortion lobby as confirmation of this formula.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Neil D. Theise, Stem Cell Research: Elephants in the Room
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?