Bioscience

No stopping stem cells

April 17, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

[Source: BEN NORRIS, Arizona Daily Sun] – A renowned scholar and advocate for stem cell research took the stage of the High Country Conference Center Saturday to preach the benefits of embryonic stem cell treatment.

Christopher Scott, a Stanford University researcher and author, has spent much of the past decade studying both the scientific and ethical issues surrounding the controversial topic. “This issue becomes so polarizing,” Scott said. “It just drives the wedge deeper. The point of this should be to open the door and get everyone’s point of view. We need good, pragmatic people.”

Scott was the keynote speaker at a conference of honors college students from throughout the western U.S.

Booking the scholar is quite a feat for NAU and the new conference center. Scott’s work has been featured on NPR’s Science Friday program and has earned him a coveted fellowship at King’s College in London.

Scott has given more than 50 talks at colleges and conferences throughout the country, explaining his position and promoting his 2007 book “Stem Cells Now.” Controversy surrounds the stem cells scientists wish to use, taken from embryos donated by potential mothers for in vitro fertilization.

Scott said many of these embryos are simply discarded after a few months of going unused because potential parents tend to donate more than is necessary.

“This raises important ethical and political questions,” Scott said. “Should we let them go or should we use them for public benefit.”

The argument is most heated between two factions: those who believe life begins with the embryo and those who believe the embryo is basically a collection of cells.

“An important topic is whether a 2-day-old embryo is human,” Scott said. “Most scholars and ethicists have moved beyond that discussion. It will be very hard to meet in the middle. If you think it is murder, there is no middle ground.”

Indeed, Scott admits he has come across some pretty fierce opposition from right-to-life groups, but always tries to keep the conversations civil. He faced no public opposition during his presentation at the conference center Saturday.

ON THE EDGES OF MEDICINE

During his presentation, Scott showed the audience slides of bladders and kidneys reshaped with the help of stem cell technology.

Scott said the first embryonic stem cell clinical trials in the United States are slated to begin in the next three months. Researchers and medical professionals plan to attempt a stem cell transplant to treat spinal injuries.

Scot said researchers are also interested to learn if using stem cells can reverse or slow the progress of macular degeneration, a condition that eventually leads to blindness.

Scientists also believe stem cell research can lead to the regeneration of heart, liver, kidney and muscle cells, to name a few.

“This is now a world phenomenon,” Scott said. “The U.S. is one of dozens of countries doing this research.”

Although the United States government prohibits federal funding of all but a few stem cell lines, research is not prohibited in all 50 states.

CONFERENCE A PLATFORM FOR STUDENTS, TOO

The weekend-long conference, hosted by NAU and the High Country Conference Center, brought honors students from more than 40 colleges and universities throughout the western United States.

Students had a chance to present their own research during breakout sessions. Topics ranged from discussions in bioscience to history and political issues.

“This is a great experience for the audience and the presenters,” said Michael Evertson, a sophomore from Central Arizona College, who gave his presentation on the history of progressive rock music. “I came to enjoy the presentations and make some networking connections.”

Kelly Lintecum, also a sophomore at the same college, gave her presentation on avian flu. She hopes to study bioscience at either NAU or ASU, but has not made up her mind just yet.

“I’m here to improve my public speaking skills,” Lintecum said. “It’s also important to represent my school.”

Honor students from NAU also made sure to show up for the event. Zeke Lihosit, a freshman history major volunteered to help with the organization and setup, not to mention testing the waters for a presentation of his own next time the conference rolls around.

“This is my first time at a conference like this,” Lihosit said. “It’s pretty cool to see all these students present their ideas and research.”

This is the first major conference at the center to host guests from all over the western United States.

Stem Cell Research Quick Hits

– Stem cell research is a misdemeanor crime in the state of South Dakota

– Researchers are ready to treat spinal injuries and blindness in the first phases of stem cell treatment.

– Stanford researchers used embryonic stem cells to create a mouse whose brain was 1 percent human.

– Despite legislation prohibiting federal funding, Californians approved a bill in 2007 granting the use of state funds to finance research.

– Scientists used stem cell research and tissue regeneration to create a replica kidney roughly the size of a 50-cent piece.

– Adult stem cells can be found in the stomach, blood, skin and in sperm

Source: Christopher Scott, Stanford University researcher