The voters of the “show-me” state find themselves reversing namesake roles, as the nation watches them to see what they decide on the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.
The contentious Amendment 2 has three main points of debate and/or confusion that has caused opponents and proponents to launch commercials and Web sites, often contradicting each other.
In an attempt to provide a description of the amendmentâ€™s language, along with the technical and ethical issues, an informational forum took place at Missouri Western on Oct. 20 with professor of biology Todd Eckdahl and assistant professor of philosophy Steve Morris.
â€œThe more people can understand the science, the better,â€ Eckdahl said.
Eckdahl said that it is important for people to use the correct language when discussing cloning, for which there are three types.
â€œWe need to use the term cloning differentially,â€ Eckdahl said. â€œThe Amendment is very clear. It is incorrect to say (they) are the same.â€
First, molecular cloning has been happening since the 70s. Second, organismal cloning is, as the name implies, cloning of a whole being such as with the infamous Dolly.
However, according to the official summary by the Missouri Secretary of State, â€œNo person may clone or attempt to clone a human being.â€ Furthermore, the amendment makes a violation a crime punishable by fines and imprisonment for violators.
The third type of cloning is that which Amendment 2 deals with, which is cellular cloning. This is copies of cells, not genes.
Embryonic stem cells can become any of the 220 types of adult cells. By contrast, adult stem cells found in a tissue can yield all the specialized cell types of that particular tissue.
â€œThere is more flexibility among embryonic cells than adult stem cells,â€ Morris said.
Currently, adult stem cells have yielded treatments for nine conditions, most of which are blood cancers, Eckdahl said. However, with further research, it may be possible to use adult stem cells in the future to treat Parkinsonâ€™s, type 1 diabetes and heart attacks. Eckdahl said that in his opinion he does not believe that adult stem cell research will suffer if Amendment 2 is passed.
â€œStem cells could be directed to develop into various cell types: neurons for Parkinsonâ€™s disease and spinal cord injury, heart muscle cells for heart failure, cartilage for arthritis, pancreatic cells for diabetes and new myelin-producing cells for MS,â€ Eckdahl wrote in his presentation.
In addition, stem cells could be used for research for organ replacement, to study a patientâ€™s disease progression or drug response and may help scientists to understand cancer and birth defects.
Eckdahl spoke about three different ways to glean embryonic stem cells: in vitro fertilization (IVF), somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and from preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
Since 1981, IVF has resulted in 200,000 babies, but tens of thousands of IVF embryos are produced each year. The unused embryos are destroyed. Stem cells could be extracted from these. However, Eckdahl also said that these embryos are unlikely to be compatible with a given patient.
Morris said that the vast majority of about 400,000 stem cell stores will be destroyed. â€œThe stem cells that would be allocated have been frozen,â€ Morris said.
With SCNT, which is a major point of argument for many, the nucleus is removed from the egg, fused with a donor cell and fertilization is simulated. The blastocyst is formed after five days and stem cells extracted from the inner cell mass. These embryonic cells would have histocompatibility with donor.
PGD technology is currently used with IVF embryos and more research is proposed. If this technology is successful, one cell can be removed from a 16-cell stage, and the remaining 15 cells are a viable embryo. However, more research needs to be done with this technology.
â€œAs it stands right now, it hasnâ€™t been perfected,â€ Morris said. â€œI think all sides would indicate this a road to follow.â€
Perhaps if an embryo were not destroyed in the process, the debate would end. However, students and community members at the forum brought up other points of debate.
For example, one woman believed that this amendment would open the door for women to be exploited for their eggs. However, the summary by the S.O.S. says that it is illegal for a woman to profit from the sale of her eggs. In addition, it states that no human blastocyst may be produced by fertilization solely for the purpose of stem cell research.
Still others believe that this amendment will open the floodgates.
â€œSome people donâ€™t understand that this amendment will open avenues for other amendments, which will change scienceâ€™s role with how life is dealt with,â€ senior JJ Ray said.
Another point made by a community member was that harvesting the eggs is a dangerous procedure for women. However, Eckdahl pointed out that the process is exactly the same as that used for in vitro fertilization for couples.
â€œIâ€™m not a medical doctor, but the doctors I have talked to say the risk is minimal,â€ Eckdahl said. Eckdahl said that if the amendment passes, stem cell research will remain at its status quo. If it fails, nothing will change.
â€œThis amendment can be viewed as a defensive action,â€ Eckdahl said.