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Book Review: Stem Cells - Science and Ethics

25 October 2010

By Dr Karen Devine

Appeared in BioNews 581

Stem cells: Science and Ethics

Edited by Contributors: Jan Barfoot, Donald Bruce, Graeme Laurie, Nina Bauer, Janet Paterson and Bownes

Published by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences research Council (BBSRC), 3rd edition

Available to download online (see references) 

This colourful, illustrated guide to stem cells is the perfect companion for any student wishing to gain a greater understanding of stem cell research, use and ethical debates.

The booklet 'Stem cells: Science and Ethics', commissioned by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), offers A level and Higher/Advanced Higher education students a clear and concise resource with which to study the life sciences. The booklet has three chapters, is written by scientists and professionals working in science, law and technology, and provides up-to-date information on stem cell research and the laws governing it.

Chapter one introduces the role of the stem cell in human development using a flow chart. Clear, accessible language is used to explain the differences between embryonic and tissue (adult) stem cells. Students are guided through the development and use of iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem). Immune rejection in tissue transplants is discussed too. The chapter also includes an illustration of the human body to demonstrate how stem cell therapy research has advanced and played a pivotal role in the treatment of degenerative disease.

Chapter two explores the legal issues surrounding stem cell research and how the law in the UK and abroad deals with issues raised by stem cell use. The role of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the HFE Act 1990 (amended in 2008) are analysed and discussed in simple language that retains detail of their key functions. Students are encouraged to question issues like whether the current laws regulating stem cell research appear adequate or could be improved upon.

Chapter three talks about the ethical issues surrounding stem cell use and research, in particular the use of embryonic stem cells. The text explores the physical and moral status of the embryo and includes a diverse range of views, which can be used by students to open up debates in the classroom. The chapter also considers the philosophy behind many of these views.

Case studies appear throughout the chapters and give context to the booklet's content. Personal statements and quotes from experts working within authoritative bodies like the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol give a valuable insight into the real-life workings of stem cell research centres.

A diverse range of activities, including 'true or false' questions provide pupils and their teachers with a 'hands-on' method of ensuring the salient points raised by each chapter are understood and the main focal points retained. In addition, the booklet lists further reading materials and websites students can use to further their own knowledge.

BBSRC (free to download) | 2010


30 August 2011 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
A South African rugby player is believed to be the first in his country to receive an experimental stem cell therapy to treat a serious neurological disease....
01 August 2011 - by Dr Amy Strange 
'Biotechnology and Cloning' is part of a series of educational books for teenagers addressing 'contemporary social issues'. It is an unusual concept, being neither a textbook nor a revision guide. It does not directly explain the underlying science, but outlines and encourages the reader to think around the topics....

18 October 2010 - by Claire Bale and Dr Kieran Breen 
Thousands of people with serious, long term health conditions are tempted abroad each year by untested stem cell treatments. Untested stem cell treatments for Parkinson's are available in several countries, including clinics in Germany and China. But the treatments are expensive - often many thousands of pounds - and come without any scientific evidence that they work and with real risks...
18 October 2010 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
A patient paralysed through spinal cord injury has become the first person to receive human embryonic stem (ES) cell treatment in a clinical trial being conducted in the United States...
11 October 2010 - by Kyrillos Georgiadis 
Stem cells. Poetry. Two terms seldom used together. The winning entries in a poetry competition held by California's stem cell funding body to celebrate Stem Cell Awareness Day were published last Wednesday. By Friday, the two winning poems had been pulled from the website because the language of one poem: 'introduces a religious element that we now realise was offensive to some people'...

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