“The scientific world can breathe again,” many scientists thought, following US President Obama’s plans to reverse a directive restricting funding for stem cell research.
The restriction is based on ethical issues surrounding the source of embryonic stem cells, which, although usually extracted from days-old embryos that are literally clumps of cells, theoretically could develop into human beings.
Last year, Claudia Castillo of Barcelona became the first person to have a tissue-engineered full organ transplant. Stem cells from her bone marrow were used in a procedure to produce a new trachea, to combat the aftermath of tuberculosis. Now, five months on from the tracheal transplant, she is doing exceedingly well.
Embryonic cells could potentially be used to treat spinal injuries, diabetes and even cancer. But the question arises: is it right to improve one human life, but sacrifice the beginning of another?
You might think it’s perfectly acceptable – you might not. Either way, Mr. Obama’s decision is likely to re-ignite age-old debates. Does life begin at conception? Are the potential benefits of research viable? Are we attempting to ‘play God’?
Got an opinion? Impact Science would love to hear what you think. You can get involved in our stem cell debate, which will be published in the next issue: email us at [email protected]