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Stem Cells For Dummies

ISBN: 978-0-470-25928-3
364 pages
February 2010
Stem Cells For Dummies (0470259280) cover image

The first authoritative yet accessible guide to this controversial topic

Stem Cell Research For Dummies offers a balanced, plain-English look at this politically charged topic, cutting away the hype and presenting the facts clearly for you, free from debate. It explains what stem cells are and what they do, the legalities of harvesting them and using them in research, the latest research findings from the U.S. and abroad, and the prospects for medical stem cell therapies in the short and long term.

  • Explains the differences between adult stem cells and embryonic/umbilical cord stem cells
  • Provides both sides of the political debate and the pros and cons of each side's opinions
  • Includes medical success stories using stem cell therapy and its promise for the future

Comprehensive and unbiased, Stem Cell Research For Dummies is the only guide you need to understand this volatile issue.

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Introduction.

Part I: Brushing Up on Biology.

Chapter 1: Painting the Broad Strokes of Stem Cell Science.

Chapter 2: Understanding Cells and Tissues.

Chapter 3: Tracing the History of Stem Cell Research.

Part II: Delving into Stem Cell Science.

Chapter 4: Starting with Embryonic Stem Cells.

Chapter 5: Understanding Adult Stem Cells.

Chapter 6: Exploring Other Stem Cell Sources.

Chapter 7: Understanding Why Scientists Mix and Match Cells.

Part III: Discovering How Stem Cells Can Affect the Future.

Chapter 8: Looking into Cancer’s Cradle: Cancer Stem Cells.

Chapter 9: Using Stem Cells to Understand and Treat Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Chapter 10: Improving Therapies for Diseases of the Heart, Liver, and Pancreas.

Chapter 11: Improving Drug Development.

Part IV: Putting Stem Cells to Use Today.

Chapter 12: Where We Are Now: Stem Cell Treatments, Trials, and Possibilities.

Chapter 13: Understanding the Role of Stem Cells in Transplants.

Chapter 14: Putting Stem Cells in the Bank.

Part V: Understanding the Debate: Ethics, Laws, and Money.

Chapter 15: Exploring Ethical, Religious, Philosophical, and Moral Questions.

Chapter 16: Getting a Handle on Current Stem Cell Laws and Policies.

Chapter 17: Following the Money: Understanding Stem Cell Funding and Profits.

Part VI: The Part of Tens.

Chapter 18: Ten (or So) Stem Cell Myths.

Chapter 19: Ten Hurdles to Stem Cell Use.

Chapter 20: Ten Possibilities for the Future of Stem Cells.

Chapter 21: Ten (or So) Things to Do Before You Consider Stem Cell Treatment.

Chapter 22: Ten (or So) Great Resources to Stay Up to Date.

Glossary.

Index.

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Lawrence S.B. Goldstein, PhD, one of the world's foremost experts in stem cell research, is Director of the Stem Cell Initiative at the University of California, San Diego. Meg Schneider is the author or coauthor of several books, including COPD For Dummies.

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June 01, 2011
STEM CELLS FOR DUMMIES® Answers Common Questions about Stem Cell Study, Research, and Therapy

In Stem Cells For Dummies® (Wiley, 978-0-470-25928-3; February 2010), authors Lawrence S.B. Goldstein, PhD, and Meg Schneider present the latest unbiased facts on the science and discuss the hope of what's to come. Written for both a general audience and medical/biology students looking for supplementary course materials, the book presents practical information on stem cell study, research, and therapy.

Here, the authors answer some of the most common questions regarding this complex, controversial science:  

Q: What exactly are stem cells? What are the different types and their possible uses?

A: Stem cells are cells that can make more of themselves (self-renew) and generate specific types of specialized cells in the human (or animal) body. Embryonic stem cells can self-renew for long periods, and they can generate any type of cell in the fully developed body. Tissue stem cells (often called adult stem cells) normally generate only the types of cells found in their home tissue; that is, skin stem cells generate different types of skin cells, and blood-forming stem cells generate different types of blood cells.

Scientists are experimenting with ways to make tissue cells expand their repertoire by reprogramming skin cells to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which have some of the important properties of embryonic stem cells.

Stem cells help researchers understand normal development and what goes wrong in certain diseases. Eventually, scientists hope to create new treatments for a broad spectrum of common illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury, as well as debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many types of cancer.

Q: What does “cloning” mean in stem cell science?

A: A clone is simply a copy. In stem cell research, scientists copy – or clone – certain genes, cells, or other biologic materials to conduct experiments, observe patterns of development, and so on.

One kind of cloning is sometimes called “therapeutic cloning,” because the copied cells are used to test and develop therapies for disease. Some researchers also engage in “reproductive cloning” in animals to test the effects of certain genetic manipulation. Although some people have claimed to create cloned human babies, those claims have turned out to be false, and scientists in general oppose reproductive cloning for humans.

Q: What is the “blue sky” scenario in regards to stem cells’ potential?

A: The potential for stem cell research is enormous. Although researchers face a lot of obstacles, most believe that, in the next 10 or 20 years, the field will explode with new, safe and effective treatments for diseases and ailments that can’t be treated well, or even at all, today. Predicting what these treatments will look like is difficult, but they could take the form of generating “replacement parts” for damaged tissues – patches of heart tissue, for example, or new pancreatic cells for diabetes patients. Someday, scientists may be able to generate replacement tissues in the lab that are genetically compatible with, or even identical to, each patient’s own tissues, thus eliminating the problems currently associated with organ and tissue transplants.

Other treatment types likely will involve drugs that correct a genetic or non-genetic problem, or drugs that stimulate stem cells in a person’s body to correct a defect in the patient’s tissues. Imagine being able to cure a devastating illness like Alzheimer’s, for example, by injecting a drug that stimulates repair and replacement of damaged neurons in the brain.

Q: What are some of the restrictions that currently exist in the field? How would lowering these restrictions lead to better results?

A: Under the Obama Administration, stem cell researchers can use federal funding for a far wider variety of human embryonic stem cell lines than before. However, Congress still bars researchers from using federal funds to derive their own human embryonic stem cells, which means researchers either have to use other funding sources to create those cells or acquire them from sources that aren’t federally funded.

Until recently, the federal government had not come up with a comprehensive set of regulations and ethical guidelines concerning human embryonic stem cell research. Thus individual states enacted their own laws and policies, resulting in an often-confusing regulatory environment. Research that’s legal in one state may well be illegal in a neighboring state, and that makes collaboration across state lines more difficult. Add the federal funding restrictions, and the difficulties of useful collaboration among different labs across the country become more pronounced.

Q: What is some of the “purposeful disinformation” surrounding stem cells and stem cell research?

Some people use blatant scare tactics to oppose stem cell research. For example, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas has repeatedly (and falsely) claimed that human embryonic stem cell research will lead to human cloning, half-animal/half human creatures, and other nightmarish scenarios.

Others persistently argue that tissue, or adult, stem cells are already being used to effectively treat a large variety of health conditions. This is just false. The only reliable tissue stem cell treatments are bone marrow transplants and skin grafting. Every other so-called “treatment” using tissue stem cells is experimental (not yet proven to be either safe or effective) at best and a bunch of hooey (possibly even dangerous hooey) at worst.

Q: What are some valid concerns?

Many people have legitimate concerns about the ethics of certain aspects of stem cell research. Human embryonic stem cell research is controversial because some (but not all) people genuinely believe that a zygote (the product of fusion of an egg cell and a sperm cell) has the same rights of “personhood” as an infant, a child, or an adult. Some people are concerned about the unlikely scenarios in which unethical researchers (the “mad scientists” of fiction and folklore) will attempt to clone human beings, or create animal/human combinations (like “humanzees,” a fictional cross between a human and a chimp).

Stem cell researchers generally welcome well-crafted regulations and policies designed to ensure that the technology is not misused. Although scientists grumble sometimes about the paperwork and red tape, most of them recognize that strong, sensible regulation is essential to ensure that research is carried out ethically and responsibly.

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