Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: An Alternative to Embryonic Stem Cells?
Bridge, Sophie Elizabeth
Human stem cell research is a new field with many promises, but progress towards a clinical setting has been complicated by scientific and ethical challenges. The most heated discourse over stem cell research to date has focused on the source of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Different views on the moral status of the human embryo have plagued all aspects of the debate (and decision-making) on stem cells. Opponents of ESC research consider that embryos symbolize the start of life and therefore should not be sacrificed as a source of stem cells. In 2006, a way of de-differentiating somatic cells to a pluripotent state was realized. The advent of these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) appeared to circumvent concerns over embryo destruction, and hence iPSCs have been touted as an ideal (and ethical) way forward for stem cell research. However, at least for the foreseeable future, scientific investigations involving iPSCs are likely to drive further embryo destruction. As a result, iPSC research (on its present trajectory) is inevitably (and perhaps surprisingly) complicit in embryo destruction and is inextricably locked in to the moral status debate. Furthermore, iPSCs not only have scientific challenges of their own, but they have the potential to lead to the development of controversial assisted reproductive techniques (ARTs). In other words, the emergence of iPSCs has not only failed to circumvent the central moral concern with ESCs, but they have also raised a host of other novel ethical complexities. Consequently, there are a number of flaws in the commonly heard argument that ESCs are ethically problematic and that iPSCs are a morally superior option. The current state of knowledge is hugely problematic due to moral complicity and scientific challenges, and the stem cell field is plagued by uncertainty and risk. The moral frameworks that have been conventionally used as a basis of stem cell ethics have so far proved inadequate, failing to provide clear guidance on how best to come to terms with the notion of respect for embryos that are being destroyed, and on the potential of iPSCs to create embryo-like entities.
Advisor: Jones, Gareth
Degree Name: Bachelor of Medical Science with Honours
Degree Discipline: Bioethics
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Stem Cells; Ethics
Research Type: Thesis