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Right to Recover ~ Winning the Political and Religious Wars Over Stem Cell Research in America presents scientific facts that challenge readers to think for themselves rather than accept political or religious views on stem cell research.

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RIGHT TO RECOVER is an Award-Winning Finalist in the Current Events: Political/Social of the National Best Books 2007 Awards. Amazon Best-selling book in biomedical category.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Excerpts from Right to Recover

Excerpts from the book RIGHT TO RECOVER, WINNING THE POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS WARS OVER STEM CELL RESEARCH IN AMERICA authored by Yvonne Perry

Stem cell research is being actively conducted around the world for both scientific and medical reasons. Scientifically, stem cell biology provides excellent information about what is normal and abnormal regarding how cells develop. Understanding what causes cells to become diseased helps scientists find ways to prevent genes from becoming dysfunctional. It also helps them produce drugs and treatments to cure illnesses. Medically, adult stem cells from bone marrow and human umbilical cord have been proven to repair and regenerate diseased cells when transplanted into animals and humans. Never in history has one technology held such strong potential to help a majority of people live a healthier life as does the science of stem cell biology. Likewise, never in history has such a remarkable science been so ethically debated.

There are two categories of stem cells: adult and embryonic. For clarification in this book, the term “adult stem cells” refers to stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood, the placenta, amniotic fluid drawn during pregnancy, and bone marrow of a child or fully-grown adult. The term “embryonic stem cells” refers to stem cells harvested from fertilized eggs created in-vitro (outside the body).

What is a Stem Cell?
Stem cells are an undifferentiated group of cells which, depending on their surrounding conditions, are capable of developing into other types of cells such as liver cells, kidney cells, brain cells, or any of the other 260 different types of cells that make up the human body.
There are three types of stem cells: totipotent, which can develop into an entire embryo; pluripotent, which undergo a process of differentiation that changes them into multipotent cells (also called unipotent); and multipotent, which give rise to cells that have a particular function. Multipotent cells (adult stem cells) are permanently differentiated or fixed. For example, multipotent blood stem cells give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, but they cannot functionally develop into other non-blood cells such as liver cells, nerve cells, or heart muscle cells. These unique cells are with us throughout our lives and are used by the body to repair unhealthy or disabled cells of like kind.

Stem cells respond to the other cells around them, and a cell’s fate is determined by the other cells and chemicals in its environment. In their natural state, both totipotent and pluripotent stem cells are not yet any type of cell; instead, they are unassigned or blank. These “undifferentiated” cells have no specific purpose assigned to them other than to reproduce like cells while waiting for a genetic signal to tell them to develop into another type of cell. These signals are found within the environment of the body. Biologists are learning about these signals in hopes of determining the molecular method these stem cells use to differentiate and become tissues, nerves, vessels, and organs. It is believed that organs and tissues may one day be grown from pluripotent cells in laboratories to be used in lieu of, or in addition to, human organ donation. However, the main reason scientists study totipotent and pluripotent cells is to learn more about the cells’ behavior. Understanding what causes cells to become diseased will help researchers know how to produce drugs and treatments to combat or even prevent disease.

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A Matter of Semantics
In one way, doctors and researchers are mislabeling their own product when they refer to fertilized eggs (zygotes, morulas, and blastocysts) as embryonic stem cells. The media is simply repeating this misnomer and fueling the flames of argument. Yes, the cells are within the first two-month stage of development that is covered by the term “embryonic”; however, they are not able to reach all stages of embryonic development until after they successfully implant into the lining of a uterus.

Even though the term “human embryonic stem cell” (hESC) is widely used by the scientific community, I don’t like the implication it carries, which suggests that a tiny baby has been formed in the lab. There are better choices for terminology when referring to undifferentiated stem cells created in-vitro. It might be helpful to call these cells “blastocyst stem cells” or “in-vitro stem cells”. Either of these is a fitting term, which would factually demonstrate that an embryo is not automatically formed when eggs are fertilized in-vitro. From here on, I will refer to hESC as “IV-B stem cells” unless I am quoting someone who has specifically used the other term. IV-B stands for in-vitro blastocyst.

To give you an idea of why semantics are important to the study of blastocyst cells, I’ll give several definitions of terms.

What is an Organism?
Here are four definitions for organism:

  • An individual form of life, such as a plant, animal, bacterium, protist (free-living or colonial organisms with diverse nutritional and reproductive modes), or fungus; a body made up of organs, organelles, or other parts that work together to carry on the various processes of life.
  • An individual self-sustaining unit of life or living material. Five forms of organisms are known: plants, animals, fungi, protists, and bacteria.
  • In biology and ecology, an organism is a living complex adaptive system of organs that influence each other in such a way that they function in some way as a stable whole.
  • A living being whose physiological functions are carried out by subunits, or “organs” (like a heart or a liver), which are separate in function but mutually dependent.
By any of these definitions, a blastocyst is not an organism because it does not have a system of organs; it is not self-sustaining; and it is not functioning as a whole. Instead, it is totally dependent upon its environment to know what to do next.

A blastocyst is the 32- to 100-cell stage of development reached four to five days after an egg is fertilized. In the blastocyst stage, the inner cell mass that will form the embryo has separated from the cells that will form the placenta, but not all the cells of the inner cell mass will become part of the embryo. Those cells have the same genetic makeup as the embryo cells, yet I don’t know of anyone wanting to rescue the other cells. No one has equated the placenta cells of a blastocyst to a human being, so why all the fuss about the rest of the cells of the blastocyst? The blastocyst cannot form an embryo without the placenta.

A blastocyst can only become an organism if it has implanted in a uterus where it receives proper nourishment and signals to differentiate into all the cells and organs required to form a human being.

In light of that knowledge, it is clear that a fish-looking “embryo,” as we know it, has not been destroyed in any fertility lab because a fertilized egg is nothing more than a cell cluster. A cell cluster has no nervous system, thus no consciousness. Consciousness is required for humanity to exist.

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What is an Embryo?
The word embryo originates from the Greek word “embryon,” which means “that which grows.”
Based on the 2006 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, an embryo is “the young of a mammal, in the early stages of development within the womb, in humans up to the end of the second month.”

Note: embryo refers to development inside the uterus, not in-vitro. There are no embryos in a lab dish—there are only cells called zygotes, morulas and blastocysts. There is absolutely no potential for IVF-derived blastocyst stem cells to become a human embryo while in the lab. Mother Nature must do that in the environment of a uterus.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the term embryo as “an animal in the early stages of growth and differentiation that are characterized by cleavage, the laying down of fundamental tissues, and the formation of primitive organs and organ systems; especially the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception.”

Note: an embryo has tissues and organs; blastocysts do not. Implantation and conception are considered separate processes and are not synonymous with fertilization.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines embryo as: “an organism at any time before full development, birth, or hatching. In humans, the pre-fetal product of conception from implantation through the eighth week of development.”

Here, the term embryo is again used to refer to the first two months of development after conception confirming that there is a difference between fertilization and conception. That is further confirmed by the fact that an intrauterine devise (IUD) does not always prevent fertilization of the egg; it does prevent conception by preventing fertilized eggs (blastocysts) from implanting into the lining of the womb.

Conception and fertilization are two distinct and individual events. While fertilization can occur either in a lab or inside a woman’s body, conception can only take place in the womb. Conception occurs when a blastocyst becomes implanted or attached to the lining of the uterus where it begins to receive nourishment for continued development. After the first two months of development inside the womb, the term embryo is replaced by the word “fetus,” which applies until birth.

A pregnancy does not actually begin until the process of conception is complete. This process takes several days and can be confirmed by testing the levels of progesterone and hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) present in the mother’s blood. When conception in the uterus is complete, the blastocyst can develop into an embryo. It is very important to remember that conception can only occur inside the uterus.

The American Heritage dictionary gives a second definition for embyro: “an organism in its early developmental stage, before it has a distinctive form; a rudimentary stage.” We already know that a blastocyst is not an organism. A lab-created blastocyst is not an embryo; it is no more human than a skin cell, a nerve cell, or any other cell in the human body. If adult stem cells can be used for healing without creating controversy, then why can’t in-vitro blastocyst stem cells be used for research rather than being thrown in the trash?

Harvard’s definition of embryo is: “the product of a fertilized egg, from the zygote until the fetal stage.” 10 This definition may be the one that provides support for those who say that in-vitro blastocysts are embryos. Notice that an embryo is the product of a fertilized egg—not the fertilized egg itself. Just because the time period from fertilization to 8-weeks of gestation is referred to as embryonic stages, it does not mean that an actual embryo is being formed in the lab. Let’s break this down and take a closer look at the definition.

When nature’s typical course is followed and in-vitro procedures are not incorporated, the fertilization of an egg, its implantation into the uterine lining (conception), and the resulting pregnancy is a smooth developmental process that will produce an embryo. But, in-vitro fertilization is not a process of nature. It is a man-made, scientifically-modified process that unites the sperm and the egg in an environment outside the body. While living cells exist in a blastocyst, the development that must continue in order to carry the cells into fetal stages is not possible unless the blastocyst is introduced to a uterus and nature picks up the cue to begin the process of implantation and subsequent development of an embryo.

1 comment:

Steven C. Bradley said...

I found your excerpt very well written and very insightful. I think you have taken a very difficult subject and made it both understandable and acceptable for readers such as myself who are very prolife and who abhor the millions of abortions in America. I, like millions of others, regard abortion as the taking of human life i.e. murder. Yet, I also believe in life and the seeking of new ways to extend life and to make life better. Your writing really demonstrates you love of life and your yearning to improve and prolong life. I think, therefore, that even though the lives of children have been ended prematurely, perhaps having stem cells from them to help life improve and to potentially extend life would give these unfortunate children meaning to their short lives. I appreciated your pointing out that the blastocyst is not an embryo. That is eye-opening and insightful. You are a great writer and very informed and your compassion is very evident in this difficult but important subject.
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Steven Clark Bradley