Really. Stem cells can change into any mature cell type offering therapies with the potential to radically change the treatment of human disease including leukemia, cancer, parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and muscle damage, among others. Neural stem cells injected into mice, for example, can repair brain cells damaged by a disease similar to multiple sclerosis (MS).
But in spite of the stem cell's promise of cures for hundreds of thousands of suffers, there exists a great deal of resistance to the work based entirely on unfounded religious grounds.
The controversy over the research stems from the techniques used in the creation and usage of stem cells. Some claim that undifferentiated individual pre-embryonic cells are maybe, perhaps, potential human beings—ignoring the plight those thousands of actual human beings who, without stems cell therapy, may become ex-human beings. Others worry the research will lead to reproductive cloning and eventual creation of human beings.
Happily, scientists at the biotechnology firm Advanced Cell Technology have developed a procedure by which a single cell can be lifted from an embryo of only eight cells—without destroying any nascent life—and used to create a new stem cell line.
Two-thirds of Americans advocate stem cell research, so perhaps this new technique will allow critics to calm down so those whose lives could be improved or saved by the development of stem cell-based therapies can finally receive the benefit. But given the irrational basis for the objections that's unlikely. President Bush, for example, stands opposed to using human embryos for any scientific research, period.
Still, this new technique emphasizes the amazing capabilities of those few cells that can become a life, and grants a second chance to someone who may not otherwise go on living. With luck, stems cells will someday be able to do both.