Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stem Cells and Diabetes

An amazing study was published today in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association, a major journal) on Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 often develops in children, where the immune system attacks the pancreas and it becomes unable to produce the insulin needed to convert food into energy. Type 1's always require insulin injections for the rest of their lives and diabetics face increased risk of heart disease, foot ulcers leading to amputation and many other problems. Type 2 is much more common and is the result of being overweight. In the study, patients newly diagnosed with Type 1 had their immune systems suppressed and then were injected with their own stem cells. 15 out of 17 patients in the study no longer need insulin!
This certainly shows the promise of stem-cells in curing disease. So what's the debate in Washington about? Stem-cells are immature cells that can grow into different kinds of tissue and could potentially repair damaged body parts. These can be obtained from people, as in this study, but the most versatile stem-cells come from embryos. President Bush and many in the pro-life movement oppose federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research (it is perfectly legal, you just need private funds to do it). If you believe that life begins at conception, then embryonic stem-cell research kills life. However, artificial insemination involves the creation of many embryos that will never become babies. The President does not have a problem with using these embryos, but draws the line at using your tax dollars to fund research using embryos created for the purpose of destroying them to do research. I am staunchly pro-life, but I'm not sure that a microscopic cluster of a few cells is human life, so I am conflicted about embryonic stem-cell research, considering the promise it offers. However, I think that the government should not fund it. If you don't believe that life begins at conception then you are free to fund the research, but I don't everyone should be forced to do so through taxes.

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