STEM CELL THERAPY
(Adapted from “Jim and the Forgotten Embryos: A Case on Stem Cell-Based Therapy” by Miriam Segura-Totten, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science)
In this case study discussion, you will explore the controversies and benefits associated with stem cell treatments.
To receive full credit, you must:
Answer all questions
Observe the indicated word count requirement
Read the required resource
Find, use, and refer to additional reliable sources of information
Carefully read the case study story
Find additional reliable resources needed to answer the questions
Compose and post your answers to the questions below.
Case Study and Questions (Total word count requirement 400 words)
It was a late night and Sandy was barely watching the reality show on TV. Instead, she was anxiously waiting for her son Jim to arrive home for the weekend. As a freshman in college, Jim didn’t get a chance to come home often, so Sandy was thrilled to spend a few days with him. However, she did not appreciate the fact that he was going to be home so late. Jim knew how worried she got whenever he drove home late at night. Her husband Matt, on the other hand, was completely absorbed in the TV show. That’s men for you, thought Sandy. The phone ring startled Sandy out of her thoughts. “Hello?” she answered in a high-pitched voice that surprised her. “Is this Mrs. Allison?” an unfamiliar voice replied. “Yes. Is something wrong?” Sandy asked, her heart beating in her throat. “I’m very sorry to tell you this over the phone ma’am, but your son Jim has been in a car accident. He is in stable condition right now, but it would be best if you could get to the hospital as soon as possible.” Sandy didn’t remember the car ride to the hospital. Thankfully, her husband Matt kept his composure as he drove. It took all of Sandy’s concentration to make out the words the attending physician was saying. “The good news is that even though your son lost a lot of blood in the car accident, he is in stable condition now. However, his spinal cord was injured at the T7 vertebra, and the resulting inflammation damaged precious nerve cells in that area, cells that are essential for carrying electrical impulses to Jim’s legs.” The attending physician paused and swallowed. “In other words, your son is paralyzed from the chest down. We are not sure that he will be able to walk again.” As shock and dread washed over her, Sandy had to hold on to Matt so she wouldn’t fall. The physician’s next words came to her as if from very far away. “We do believe that your son would be a very good candidate for an experimental treatment using injection of human embryonic stem cells into the site of the damaged nerve cells. If you’d like, I can put you in touch with Dr. Gupta, the physician who is leading the clinical trial.” Sandy could barely concentrate. She had so many questions to ask the doctors before she would even consider subjecting Jim to such a treatment.
Question set 1
1. What is a stem cell?
2. How are embryonic stem cells different from other types of stem cells?
3. Given their function, how do you think embryonic stem cells are used as a treatment for damaged cells?
An ethical dilemma was discussed over the next several days: Sandy, Matt, and Jim debated the possibility of an embryonic stem cell treatment. The Allisons were conflicted about this decision because they were devout Christians who strongly opposed abortion, and they had heard that embryonic stem cells came from aborted fetuses. Sandy brought this issue up with Dr. Gupta, the head investigator for the experimental stem cell study. “Doctor, we are excited about the possibility of a treatment that may enable Jim to walk again. However, we do not want to harm other lives in the process of curing our son. Will this treatment result in the death of innocent lives?” Sandy asked Dr. Gupta.
Question set 2
4. Why is there a controversy surrounding the therapeutic use of embryonic stem cells?
5. What embryos are used as the source for embryonic stem cells? What would happen to these embryos if they were not used in such treatments?
6. Considering the information you provided for the last question, how would you answer Sandy’s question to Dr. Gupta?
7. If you were Sandy Allison, would you want your son Jim to undergo the embryonic stem cell treatment? Why or why not?
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