The lifting of a funding ban on human embryonic stem cell research by US President Barack Obama will impart momentum to this much maligned area of scientific study . Stem cell research has the potential to find cures to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Stem cells have two key properties: the ability to maintain themselves in their original state; and the ability to be prodded to change into specialized cells (such as neurons, kidney cells and liver cells) from an undifferentiated state.
Also Read Rethink stem cells? Science already has
These properties make them valuable for research on the origin and control of serious illnesses. But as they are derived from human embryos, research is controversial.
Religious groups argue that dabbling with stem cells is akin to playing god. That is an extreme view. Letting human life wither away due to disease when a cure is available is unpardonable.
Sure, there are areas, such as human cloning, that such research should veer away from. They certainly present serious ethical dilemmas. But they are different from curing life-threatening diseases.