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Stem cell research and politics must be separated

Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 00:10

Two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for their discovery and work with stem cells — cells that can be “programmed” to develop into different types of cells that can serve different functions in the body.

Stem cells place in research — particularly human embryonic stem cells — have been a topic of political debate since their discovery in 1962 by one of the winners of the Prize, British scientist John Gurdon.

The second part of the prize was awarded to Shinya Yamanaka, who with his graduate student showed that a stem cell could be created from an already-specialized cell that can be changed to perform with functions other than their original — meaning that embryos are not necessarily needed.

But stem cell discoveries should be lauded for their advancement of science and medicine, instead of being used for political gain or intertwined with religious rulings, as is inevitable during each election season, and thanks to these recent discoveries that don’t require embryonic stem cells, hopefully the merit of these cells can stand alone.

The topic has been mostly muted at the national level — save for a few debates between Senate candidates in Connecticut last weekend — but the latest Nobel Prize should bring to light recent research that has shown there are ways to obtain stem cells other than from fetuses, restoring trust in ongoing research to find new ways to create and utilize the cells.

Though research funded by the National Institutes of Health already cannot use stem cells derived from human embryos, unless the cells have been provided by a private entity that is not funded with government money, as enacted by an executive order after President Barack Obama entered office, the new discovery keeps politics out of science and U.S. scientists can remain on par with those in other nations, continuing their work to find medical solutions to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

According to the Huffington Post, since Obama’s order, stem cell research has fueled work including restoring hearing loss, certain types of blindness and regenerating spine nerve cells.

With talk likely to flare up after this prize’s announcement, it is important to keep in mind the medical advances — instead of the political or moral judgments — that can be made when stem cell studies are allowed.

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