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What is Stem Cell Research?

Recent advances in biomedical research have raised the hope of curing diseases such as Parkinson's Disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, AIDS, spinal cord injury, heart failure and cancer. These diseases are the result of the death of specific types of cells, such as nerve cells and the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. For reasons not entirely understood, the dead cells are not automatically replaced by new cells.

This is in contrast to other tissues, such as skin and blood, that routinely replace dying cells with new cells. The new cells that can replace the dead cells are recruited from a reserve supply of cells that have maintained the potential to divide and multiply when called upon. They have also maintained the potential to mature into the specific type of cell that is needed. Such cells with the lasting ability to divide and mature into new functional cells when needed are termed Stem Cells. ( Learn More! Watch Quicktime Shorts about the 3 kinds of pluripotent stem cells.)

Scientists have discovered that stem cells can be grown to high numbers in laboratory culture dishes, and then encouraged to differentiate into specific cell types, such as heart muscle cells and nerves. Experiments with laboratory mice have demonstrated that the stem cells grown in laboratories can replace the dead cells in organs such as heart, which apparently does not have its own supply of stem cells. These encouraging results have spawned numerous studies to learn to apply stem cell therapy to humans.

The principle problem facing biomedical scientists studying stem cells is a source of stem cells for the tissues and organs that do not have their own supply. Alternate sources of stem cells are fetal tissues and abandoned, frozen embryos in infertility clinics. These sources are morally unacceptable to many U.S. citizens and the research has been stalled by moral outrage and lack of government funding.

Until more advances are made in understanding how to "reprogram" adult cells to become stem cells, the best way to accomplish this is to use human eggs. Some methods of generating human stem cells from human eggs do not require that the eggs be fertilized by sperm. Although still controversial, the use of unfertilized human eggs to generate stem cells is more acceptable to many U.S. citizens.

To advance the treatment opportunities, the Foundation is raising funds to help bridge the gap created by the lack of government funding. The Foundation hopes to fund and carry on innovative projects to discover how to produce stem cells from unfertilized human eggs.
For the Foundation's Egg Program Guidelines click here.

Additional Information
Human Embryonic Stem Cells
Human Cloning Report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
House of Representatives Human Cloning Packet, Feb. 2003
Letter to Nature, Dr. Ann Kiessling; Author
Parthenogenetic Stem Cells in Nonhuman Primates
Nonhuman primate parthenogenetic stem cells - article 2
Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer in Humans

Science Article; Patients Voices, Powerful Sound in the Stem Cell Debate

Links to sites with additional information
Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research
Christopher Reeves Foundation
National Institutes of Health - The NIH stem cell information database.
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Advanced Cell Technology
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC)

 

 
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