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Stem Cells: Embryonic

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Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics


The advent of stem cells into the public arena in 1998 raised hopes for the treatment of a host of debilitating diseases affecting many organs and tissues of the body. The stem cells on which most attention was paid were embryonic stem cells, on account of their enormous biological potential. However, their derivation from human embryos raised major ethical qualms, involving as it does the destruction of embryos. The hype accompanying stem cells has had repercussions ranging from medical tourism to scientific fraud. The emergence in 2006 of induced pluripotent stem cells added to the clamor surrounding stem cells, since these appeared to surmount the ethical problems through bypassing an origin in embryos. These stem cells are obtained by reprogramming adult body cells so that they revert to a pluripotent state and appear to have a potential akin to that of embryonic stem cells. Embryos from which embryonic stem cells are derived may be nonviable, surplus embryos from IVF programs, embryos produced for research purposes, embryos created using somatic cell nuclear transfer, and human admixed embryos. Policy and regulatory frameworks governing the production of embryonic stem cells fall into four dominant categories, each with differing underlying ethical strictures and also with substantial scientific and clinical repercussions. The comparative status of embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells is assessed both scientifically and ethically.

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Correspondence to D. Gareth Jones .

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Jones, D.G. (2014). Stem Cells: Embryonic. In: ten Have, H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics. Springer, Cham.

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