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The Debate Over Fetal Tissue Research

2643 words - 11 pages

The Debate over Fetal Tissue Research

Almost all of us would agree that it is the medical fields purpose to do all it can to help relieve and prevent human suffering. This point is not often debated. Taking aspirin, getting a flu shot or a vaccination, or taking antibiotics to feel better are all common in our world. The use of fetal tissue can offer relief to many patients today, but yet these people are not getting the full benefits of what this treatment can offer them. Many people are worried ethically about what will result from this field of research. But fetal tissue research is overwhelmingly beneficial and should be continued and supported despite the arguments against it, as ...view middle of the document...

Probably the most important feature is the "plasticity" of the cells. This refers to the fact that these young cells have not been differentiated yet. They still have the potential to become just about any type of cell. The young cell just has to be transplanted into the desired region and it will mold its growth to become that type of specialized cell.

"In addition, it [fetal tissue] can be successfully cryopreserved and reanimated." (Harris, 3) With this feature, the tissue can be frozen and saved to be used at later time. If usable tissue can be saved until when it is needed, shortages may be prevented.


The use of fetal cells for transplantation is a relative recent development. In 1928, the first transplantation was done with fetal cells. Surgeons in Italy transplanted fetal pancreatic cells to a patient with diabetes. Unluckily, there was no lasting improvement in the patient. Fetal cells played an important role in the development of vaccines. It wasn't until 1968 that a successful transplantation took place. Fetal liver cells were grafted into patients suffering DiGeorge syndrome, a rare and usually fatal genetic disorder. (Begley 49) Fetal tissue transplantation became the accepted treatment for this rare disease.

Current Treatments

Since then, fetal cells have helped patients with many other ailments. There are a wide range of afflictions which the use of fetal tissue can treat and help reduce symptoms. Parkinson's disease, diabetes, blood and immune system disorders are a few of the areas that are now being treated with this type of procedure.

Probably the most promising is the treatment of Parkinson's. This is a common disease, usually affecting at least 500,000 people in the United States at one time. This disease results in lack of control of movement, and the patients experience uncontrollable shaking, rigidity, and eventually paralysis. It is due in part to the destruction of the area of the midbrain that is responsible for motor movements. There is then a resulting imbalance of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter, that causes the shaking and the tremors. There are drugs that stimulate the production of dopamine in the brain and are effective treatments. But a very specific amount is needed or else psychosis can result. Therefore, fetal neural cells that are injected into the damaged area of the brain may provided a permanent source of dopamine.

Immune disorders are another area that fetal tissues are helping to combat. Much research is being directed to this area and definite progress has been made. Not only has immune function often been reestablished, but there is a good rate of long term survival for patients. Fetal liver cells have been found to be an important site of blood formation. This is important because the fetal tissue cells have a low amount of immunocompetent T lymphocytes compared to adult bone marrow. When bone marrow is used in transplants to treat immune disorders, the...

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