Stem Cell Ethics Issue – Blood Transfusions

by Malc on March 25, 2009

blood-testsThe issue of stem cell ethics has once more arisen; this time related to blood transfusions.

Britain is a leading nation in stem cell research, mainly because America was held back until recently by ex-President Bush’s funding restrictions, since reversed by President Obama.

New UK research now plans to have infection-free blood available for infusions within 3 years – synthesised from embryonic stem cells.

Blood Transfusion Safety

Blood from donors has the disadvantage of occasional contamination. The worst case of this was probably the large number of haemophiliacs – who need regular transfusions – being infected with HIV before it’s transmission through blood was fully identified.

In addition, it is possible to transmit hepatitis through the blood, as well as variant CJD the human form of BSE or "mad cow disease".

Blood Transfusion Safety Shortage

The blood produced would be from the group O-Rhesus negative – the one blood type, which is accepted by everyone. It would be  a huge advantage to have large quantities of this type of blood available.

This would make it much easier to deal with emergencies – not least in battlefield situations, when blood supplies easily run out.

Joint funding

The research will be funded by the NHS, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and the Wellcome Trust – the medical research charity.

Now the ban on federal funding for research has been overturned in America it is expected that the Americans will resume their own research in this area.

Ethics Issue

Ethically there will be objections to the use of embryonic stem cells. Hopefully these will be overcome. The massive benefit of having unlimited, safe blood for transfusions must outweigh moral considerations of using spare embryos left over from IVF treatment, for example.

It’s not as if huge numbers of cells will be needed; theoretically, at least, only one cell will fulfil all our needs.

Safe Blood

If we can get beyond the ethics issue, this will be a great relief to know that blood received from transfusion scan be 100% guaranteed to be free of infection – and available in sufficient quantity.

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