History of Stem Cell Research

Many people have heard of stem cells and they know that the research and use of the cells is quite controversial, most do not know the history of stem cell research and why it has become such a hot button issue.

Stem Cell Research: The Beginning

Stem cell research dates back to the early 1900’s. This is when the stem cell was first discovered and shortly thereafter it was found that the cells are able to generate other types of cells. While many assume that stem cell research is all about human cells, the research has included both animal and human stem cells over the course of time. The cells can be broken down into three main categories which are totipotent, pluripotent and multipotent with each being a bit different than the other in their ability to form cells and where they come from specifically.

After finding the different types of stem cells that existed and learning, in part, what they had the ability to do much was learned about how they work and what could possibly be done with them to treat different health issues. Bone marrow was the first attempt at putting stem cell research to use. Originally the bone marrow was given to patients orally but this failed. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that doctors learned enough about the compatibility of stem cells to successfully complete During the 1990’s bone marrow transplants took off, treating immunodeficiency as well as leukemia.

Involvement of the Government

It wasn’t until 1998 when a man by the name of James Thompson first isolated cells from very early embryos. Since the 1970’s there has been much debate about the morality of using stem cells, whether they are adult or embryonic! Legislature has had to get involved, due to public outcry and so there have been many changes in the laws since the 70’s. In 1973 a moratorium was placed on government funding for anything relating to human embryo research. In 1988 a panel voted in favor of government funding and congress would then override the moratorium in 1990. This was vetoed by President George Bush and later President Bill Clinton lifted the ban but reversed his decision due to the rage of the public. By 1995 federal funding of embryonic stem cell research had been banned and in 1998 the ban was extended.

Interestingly, researchers still wanted to know more but were limited to private funds to make research happen. In 2000 President Bill Clinton ruled that research could be performed on the stem cells of aborted human fetuses but not on embryonic cells. In 2001 President George W. Bush agreed that federal funding could be used to research only existing human embryonic stem cell lines but that further destruction of human embryos should not be taking place with federal funds.

These limitations on stem cell research remain in place today and there does not seem to be a change coming in the near future. While federal funding is not used to do this research, many companies and individuals are doing so with private funds, though the research is much more slow going than it would be if it was done with more generous federal funds.

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