Donating Excess Embryos For Stem Cell Research

conceptual drawing of stem cells

By Denise Donati

Stem Cell Research has been very much in the headlines and it is now legal in Queensland, but what does all this mean?

What Are Stem Cells?

Every cell in our body starts from the cells that are present in early developing embryos. Some form lung cells, some form brain cells, whilst others form muscles, eggs, or sperm. The cells in an early embryo are called stem cells because they are like the trunk at the bottom of the tree of cell development, and with the right set of circumstances they can turn into any cell type at all.

Scientists have realised the potential usefulness of these cells. If you have a damaged spinal cord, you might be able to have it fixed if you can grow new nerve cells.  It could even be possible to replace damaged heart cells after a heart attack, or make new blood cells for someone with leukaemia to replace the cancerous ones. The possibilities are pretty exciting.

Stem Cell Research Challenges

The difficulty is finding the right trigger that causes these stem cells to differentiate into specific cell types.  What is it that makes a stem cell decide to become a nerve cell, and how can you reproduce this in the laboratory?  To be able to answer these questions you need a supply of stem cells to allow the research to be done.

Using Embryos For Stem Cell Research

Embryos belonging to couples who have now completed their families or have decided that they no longer wish to continue with treatment for whatever reason have been suggested as the logical source of stem cells for research.  You can find stem cells hidden deep within the tissues of adults as well, but they are much harder to access.

Using embryos for research poses a set of difficult ethical and moral questions though. Embryos are uniquely special because of their potential to create new human life, and deserve to be treated with a different level of respect than other human tissues.

Some people find the thought of research on embryos inconceivable. Others argue that these embryos would otherwise be allowed to respectfully succumb, and that doing research gives them a chance to be useful to human kind. In October 2007, the Queensland government passed laws allowing embryonic stem cell research to be carried out.

Fertility Solutions Sunshine Coast does not currently participate in embryonic stem cell research.