University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Therapeutic cloning: Stem Cell Therapy

Embryonic stem cells differentiate into all other types of cells, but lose this ability as the baby or animal matures. They can be made to grow indefinitely in the laboratory, and under suitable conditions can be made to differentiate into a range of cell types.

Many human diseases are due to functional failure of single types of body cells. As well as Glossary Link:MND (motor neurones), other examples include Parkinson’s Disease and stroke (brain neurones); type 1 Glossary Link:diabetes (pancreatic islet cells); heart attack (cardiac muscle).

Theoretically new healthy cells would reverse the symptoms of these conditions, and cloned embryonic stem cells could be a suitable source. People suffering from permanent paralysis as a result of spinal injuries might also benefit from stem cell therapy.

Click to enlarge
Diagram courtesy of Dr Robin Lovell-Badge


  Thought Experiment:

The actor Christopher Reeve suffered a devastating accident in which his spinal cord was injured at the level of his second cervical vertebra (C2). This meant that he was permanently paralysed from the neck down and could not even breathe without a ventilator. He campaigned very hard to raise money for stem cell research, but he met with a lot of opposition.

This came from those people who did not believe that it was right to create embryos for research. They believe that embryos should have protection as potential human beings in their own right.

Decide which side of the argument you come into. Make a claim for or against the use of embryos in stem cell research and argue your case using as much evidence (data warrants and backing) as you can.

Find someone with the opposite view, either in your group, or via this website. Put your argument to them, and listen to theirs.

Consider if and how your position has changed from both the moral and spiritual points of view.

Next: Ethical issues in stem cell research


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Activity  Would you want to live forever?

Theoretical biologist Aubrey De Grey thinks that the first person to live for a thousand years may already be alive. New technologies in cloning, like stem cells, might bring an end to aging. Listen to the radio clip below and click on the video to hear Prof Kathy Sykes' thoughts on the issue. 

Audio clip Start the week, BBC Radio 4 
6/2/06 (Requires Real Player)
Clip start:11mins, Clip end:22mins

Professor Kathy Sykes
University of Bristol
Clip length: 1 min,
If you can see this button ,
click it to watch full screen.

 Can you identify three positive and three negative outcomes of an end to aging for society?


 Better Humans: Briefing papers from Demos and the Wellcome Trust.


Stem Cells from your skin?

Read more about the development of pluripotent cells from individual skin cells which has opened up a new world of research in a  paper by Constance Holden and Gretchen Vogel  in Science magazine. Do scientists still need to work with embryonic stem cells?