A recent study conducted by researchers from Lund University in Sweden revealed the future implications of amniotic fluids in stem cell research. During normal cesarean section procedures, the amniotic fluid is discarded as medical waste. However, recent evidence proves that amniotic fluids are a viable source of stem cells. Amniotic fluid contains Mesenchymal stem cells, a type of connective cell that has the ability to be converted into different types of cells for use in medical treatments. According to a Dec. 4 Science Daily article, research on the implication of MSCs in treating neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cardiovascular disease has proven to be successful in the past. However, MSCs are usually taken from adult human and animal sources, and they are, therefore, in limited supply. The researchers from Lund University have developed a novel technique for extracting MSCs from the amniotic fluid of patients undergoing scheduled C-sections. The procedure involved inserting a soft catheter into the amniotic membrane to collect the fluids shortly after the cesarean operation was performed, lengthening the procedural time only by only 90 seconds, according to the lead clinician, Andreas Herbst, in the same Dec. 4 Science Daily article. This is far from a new discovery; in 2007, it was first confirmed that amniotic fluid contains viable pluripotent stem cells, according to a Jan. 8, 2007 Washington Post article. Despite this scientific advancement and the knowledge of the potential uses of stem cells, there is still controversy surrounding the topic, more specifically that of embryonic stem cells. 

Embryonic stem cells are cells taken from the inner layer of a cell mass during embryonic development. These cells are special in that they can essentially be used as a blank slate to differentiate into other type of cells and replace those that may have been damaged due to illness or aging. This differs from amniotic stem cells, because those are not entirely pluripotent.  Though beneficial, the use of embryonic stem cells is highly controversial because of the ethical concerns that many have. One of the greatest arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells is that taking a “human life” is unethical. Even former president George W. Bush vetoed the 2006 Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, stating that the use of stem cells for research would “support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others,” according to a Jan. 20, 2006 Washington Post article. The cells used for research are taken from a blastocyst, a cluster of cells, grown in a petri dish. It is neither a potential child nor something developing inside a woman’s uterus — the blastocyst is a group of cells and nothing more. In an interview with the publication Stem Cell Lines, Harvard University professor Michael Sandel offers that the same logic used behind calling a blastocyst a human life could be used to call a simple skin cell a human life. Regardless of the facts presented, even today there is debate surrounding what actually determines a human life. More recently, the Trump Administration backed the 20-week abortion ban, according to an Oct. 2 article in the Hill. With this bill, the only exceptions for abortion are cases of rape and incest or in order to save the woman’s life. While this is not the same as utilizing embryonic stem cells for research, the same method of thinking dictates both policies — the rights of non-existent “humans” are taking priority over scientific exploration. 

Quite possibly the greatest danger to science is ignorance. One may hear the term “embryonic stem cell” and assume the worst of modern scientists and of the fate of the embryo, but that is far from the truth. Before policymakers and concerned citizens rally against a cause, some basic research should be conducted. As previously stated, utilizing the stem cells from amniotic fluids is an option that many find more ethical, but the experiment conducted by Luden University utilizes a new technique, and it is unknown when that technology will readily available for widespread use. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, embryonic stem cells are immortal and have unlimited developmental potential. While it is possible to “reprogram” adult cells to behave in a manner similar to that of embryonic stem cells, not utilizing all of the resources available is doing the field a disservice. A Jan. 24, 2012 article in Time magazine describes two patients whose lives were changed drastically upon having embryonic retinal cells injected into their eyes to treat macular degeneration. One patient, who only went by Rosemary, stated that “I don’t have to grab my magnifying glasses or reading glasses as much anymore, and I don’t have to blow things up on my monitor.” Her vision improved to 20/800, and she went from being able to only see vague hand gestures to making out individual fingers. Knowing this, the doctors at University of California Los Angeles, where the surgery was performed, expressed intent to continue such research. 

This is just a small victory, and there is the possibility for many more, but this can only happen once the public realizes the true importance of scientific research.