Event Description

"Human Stem Cell Research: Problems and Promise" is a Northwestern University public outreach program to help nonscientist students and the general public understand the importance of human stem cell research and its possible impact on our society.

Our speakers will discuss, in plain English, what human stem cell research involves, how it may be used, and what scientific, ethical, and legal questions it raises.

The panel will address such questions as

  • What are stem cells? How do embryonic stem cells differ from adult stem cells?
  • How might research on stem cells be used to improve health? What are the limitations of using stem cells to develop new therapies?
  • What ethical and legal questions surround the use of stem cells derived from embryos? What about adult-derived stem cells? Should the use of both be allowed? Who decides?
  • Could the use od stem cells make it possible to clone humans? What is therapeutic cloning?
  • What are the implications of patenting a human stem cell line?
  • How can law and policy makers develop appropriate regulations on human stem cell research in the face of honest disagreements among scientists, ethicists, and the public?

Schedule of Events (speaker bios can be found here)

9:00 am - Opening Remarks, President Henry Bienen and Professor Albert Farbman

9:10 am - The Clinical Importance of Stem Cells, Dr. Ron McKay

9:35 am - Alternatives to Embryonic Stem Cells, Dr. David Prentice

10:00 am - The Case Against Destroying Embryos for Stem Cell Research, Richard M. Doerflinger

10:25 am - Break

10:50 am - Duties, Freedoms, and Limits: The Ethics of Research in Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Laurie Zoloth

11:15 am - Politics and Polify in the Stem Cell Debate, Robin Alta Charo

11:40 am - Stem Cell Research and Public Policy: How are the Rules Made?, John E. Porter

12:05 pm - Panel Discussion

12:30 pm - Conclusion


Why is human stem cell research both promising and problematic?

Human stem cells were successfully grown in the laboratory for the first time in 1998. As objects for study and manipulation by researchers, stem cells hold great promise for two reasons: they may be able to renew themselves indefinitely, and, under the right conditions, they can develop into mature cells of many -- and possibly all -- different types, such as nerve cells, skin cells, pancreas cells, etc. So far, scientists have had some success in experiments using stem cells to restore lost function in animals, but the ability to transplant stem cells into humans to replace diseased tissues is not yet assured.

Despite hopes that human stem cell research will lead to medical breakthroughs, there are controversial ethical and legal questions concerning how these cells are derived. Many people are opposed to using stem cells derived from human embryos because the removal of the cells results in the death of the embryos. For many, causing the death of an embryo is equivalent to taking the life of a human being.

In August 2001, President George W. Bush ruled that the federal government would fund research only on existing stem cell lines derived from human embryos. This ruling prohibits federal support for developing new lines that would require more embryos to be created and destroyed. This ruling does not prevent research on stem cells derived from adults, nor does it apply to privately funded research.

Last September a report from the National Academy of Science Research Council and the Institute of Medicine stated, in part, that "public funding of research on human stem cells derived from both adults and embryos provides the most efficient and responsible means for achieving medical breakthroughs." The report also noted, however, that existing stem cells must be monitored closely for genetic mutations and other problems, and predicted that new stem cell lines will be needed in the future.

These scientific uncertainties and ethical dilemmas will be discussed in layperson's language at this conference.

This program is supported by the Herman and Bea Silverstein Fund for the Center for Genetic Medicine and the Klopsteg Lecture Fund, with additional support from the following Northwestern University units: the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology; the Department of Biochemisty, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology; the Office of the Dean, Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; the Office of the Dean, Northwestern University Medical School; the Office of the Vice President for Research; the Office of the Vice President for University Development; and the Science in Human Culture Program.

For more information, please contact the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology by phone (847/491-5521) or e-mail at m-kennedy2@northwestern.edu.



what are stem cells?

stem cell resources


comments or q's


speakers | event description | what are stem cells? | stem cell resources | directions | comments or q's | webcast

Organized by the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology
Phone 847/491-5521 • fax 847/491-5211 • e-mail m-kennedy2@northwestern.edu
© 2001 Northwestern University World Wide Web Disclaimer and University Policy Statements
Revised April 12, 2002