Stem cells are primitive cells found in embryos, fetuses, and recently adults that can grow into 210 types of cells in the body. James A. Thomson, an embryologist at the University of Wisconsin, and John D. Gearhart of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine announced on Thursday, November 8 1998 that they and their colleagues had isolated the cell. Scientists have tried for years to find stem cells because of their great medical value. Diseases such as Diabetes, Bone Marrow Cancer, Chronic Heart disease, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease are just a few that could all be cured with the use of stem cells.
As of May 18 2001, scientists have grown blood cells, blood vessel cells, bone cartilage, neurons, and skeletal muscle in petri dishes and continue to grow many other types of cells. This is encouraging news because a lot of diseases involve the death or dysfunction of a single type of cell. Scientists believe that the introduction of healthy cells into a patient will restore lost function. Since researchers have discovered how to isolate and culture stem cells, they have to figure out how to coax these cells into becoming the specialized cells and tissues that they need for transplant into patients. Discovering this process could lead to better means of preventing and treating birth defects and cancer. Also, it would produce an almost endless supply of human cells and tissues in the laboratory to test experimental drugs on.
Even though the benefits are enormous, many people are against research of stem cells because of where scientists must get them. The most effective stem cells are from day old embryos, which must be destroyed to obtain them. Many conservative federal legislators and antiabortion activists are against funding research for that reason.
The Coalition of Americans for research Ethics states, "While we in no way dispute the fact that the ability to treat or heal suffering persons is a great good, we also recognize that not all methods of achieving a desired good are morally or legally justifiable. If this were not so, the medically accepted and legally required practices of informed consent and of seeking to do no harm to the patient could be ignored whenever some "greater good" seems achievable."