A recent study from MIT (available here) has found that stem cells developed from blood and skin samples can be manufactured into liver like cells. The implications of this are exciting on two different levels: 1) this is another success for ethically derived stem cells; 2) this study is being used to develop treatment for malaria – a disease that has a lifelong impact on those it affects.
The use of stem cells for the development of treatments for various diseases is something frequently researched in the scientific community, and often debated in the bioethics community. Stem cells are valued because of their potential to grow into different types of cells. The debate stems (no pun intended) from the source of the stem cells. Some proponents of stem cell research argue that research should focus on embryonic stem cells – which necessitates the destruction of a human being at the embryonic stage to harvest the stem cells. This is not a method that is consistent with recognizing the dignity of every individual human being, as it requires the destruction of a human in its earliest stages to potentially benefit people in later developmental stages. However, other proponents of stem cell research believe that the research should only use non-embryonic stem cells. These stem cells can be manufactured from donated skin or blood cells, or even obtained from the umbilical cord after a baby is born. Proponents of non-embryonic stem cell use focus on its ethical origins – no embryos are destroyed – as well as the potential of personalized application in medicine (your body is less likely to reject treatment developed from your own cells).
In the study referenced above, the liver like stem cells are created using non-embryonic, adult blood and skin cells. Once the cells have grown, they are infected with malaria for the purpose of testing new treatment options for the disease. This research exemplifies a discovery respectful of human dignity in its development, as well as it purpose. Malaria is a disease that plagues approximately 198 million people (as of 2013 – see here), and seeking treatment for this disease is another way to respect the dignity of those suffering from it. As we fund, support, develop, or conduct research, it is important that human dignity be respected and valued in both the methods and purpose of the research. How encouraging it is to be reminded of the successful stories in scientific advancement that are not at the expense of human dignity!
For more on stem cells go here
For an article discussing the MIT study read this