Sunday, July 23, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

I personally had some experience with embryonic stem cell research, however, when I did it, it was with mouse, pig, sheep, and cow.

I remember I had a high school student. He had an internship at the university that summer. His project involves studying sperms. To him, sperms have life in it, and he refused to do experiments with them. We respect his decision.

I myself, had no problem studying sperms. However, with embryos, the animals have to breeded to get them pregnant, then we sacrificed the animals to get their ovaries. The meat from the pig, sheep, and cow can go on to the meat market.

With pig, sheep, and cow, I can go and pick up from the slaughter house. I saw how the animals were electrocuted, and bleeded. It was not a pleasant sight. However, I rationalize that at least, their meat can go to the meat market.

With mouse, however, I had to sacrifice the mouse myself. It was hard at first, but after I know the techniques, it wasn't as hard. After we remove the parts we needed, the dead mouse is discarded.

The potential is very alluring.

Here we have a set of cells, called embryonic stem cells or pluripotential cells, with the potential to differentiate to all types of cells. It has the potential to help with the problem with shortage of organs in organ transplantation.

It also has the potential to transfer gene. Let's say that our cells are deficient in making certain enzymes, we can inject cells that have the capability to make this enzyme.

The challenge, however, is also great.

Embryonic stem cells have an internal program to differentiate, that is how they get from an embryo to a fetus.

One challenge is to halt this program, and keep it in the pluripotential state. My experience with this is there is very low ratio of success, but it was 10 years ago. Somehow, for mice, it was not as hard to keep these cells in a pluritotential state, but for other species, it was not as easy. For embryos that spontaneously differentiate in a tissue culture plate, I can see different types of structures arise. For example, I can see they try to grow three dimensionally into a heart-like structure, beating like a heart.

Another challenge is to understand the biology enough so that we can control what type of cells it differentiate to if we have this pluripotential cells.

Another challenge is to safely incorporate these cells into the body without rejection.

From a scientific point of view, this is perhaps the most exciting project I have ever taken. However, from a moral point of view, I see a potential life in this embryo. I knew that down the line, what I would be looking at in the tissue culture plate is not a mice embryo, a pig embryo, a sheep embryo, a cow embryo, but a human embryo, and that is the line I don't want to cross.

But I am just speaking for myself. If I take a life, I have to live with it with my conscience. God knows how many animals' life I have taken in the name of progress for science. Like that high school student, even though I know that once these embryos are out (from fertility clinics), if they are not used, they end up being in a trash. There is something about experimenting on another potential human life that just irk me.

On the other hand, if that potential human life knows that it will be discarded, it might want to be of some use to society, ie. to know what life is in a tissue culture plate, to know what life is in a liquid nitrogen tank, and with progress in science, it might someday be used to save another human's life.


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