SfN supports continued and careful use of stem cells to produce new treatments and to aid in the discovery of new drugs for a vast array of devastating diseases. Generally defined, stem cells are cells that can self-renew and give rise to mature cells of different lineages. It is important to recognize the existence of different types of stem cells, including embryonic stem cells, fetal stem cells, and adult stem cells. Stem cells can be derived from various organisms, including plants, rodents, and primates (including humans). Stem cells are found in many different organs of the mammalian body, including blood, brain, and skin. Each of these different cell types has different properties and no single stem cell is uniquely superior to any other. Thus, at this early stage in stem cell research, a broad investigative approach is encouraged. Human embryonic stem cells are unique because they represent the potential to give rise to all cells of the human body and thus represent the broadest range of potential human cells.
The extraordinary promise of this fruitful area of research is only just beginning to be realized and must be continued, with all the proper ethical safeguards of medical research taken. While the Society for Neuroscience supports stem cell research and its tremendous promise for medical discoveries, it emphatically opposes human reproductive cloning for any reason on ethical, moral, and scientific grounds.
Stem cells offer tremendous promise for new treatments of an array of deadly and debilitating diseases afflicting mankind. Advances in the treatment of diseases of the blood and in the success of skin transplants have already been documented. Additionally, stem cells have been used in modeling human disease to search for and test new drugs and could potentially address the problem of organ rejection in cases of transplants.
Many disorders could potentially benefit from stem cell research. In patients with Type-1 diabetes, insulin-producing cells are lost and may be replaced by stem cells. In Parkinson's disease, vulnerable dopamine cells would be selectively targeted and replaced.
Stem cells also hold great promise for other neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord damage. Some 50 million Americans have a permanent, neurological disability that limits their daily activities. If these patients could be aided through stem cell research, we would make tremendous progress in reducing human suffering.
SfN is deeply concerned that scientists who wish to pursue these innovative techniques, which are the fruits of years of federally funded research, will be forced to leave this country to conduct their research. To date, the United States has been a magnet for scientists working with stem cells, but this would rapidly change with legal or legislative efforts to ban or restrict stem cell research.
More information is available from the International Society for Stem Cell Research and the National Academy of Sciences.