Reeve was paralyzed from the neck
down following a riding accident in 1995. Although he was unable
to walk, he still remained a hero by becoming the prominent
face and voice to urging a cure for paralysis, lobbying Congress
to support embryonic stem cell research.
Reeve truly was Superman to others who suffered from paralysis,
bringing them hope when they previously had none. Early stem
cell research was promising, but not advanced enough to guarantee
any major breakthroughs. Stem cell research was set back even
more in 2001, when President Bush restricted federally funded
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Web site,
stem cell research started as a way to advance knowledge of how
organisms develop from a single cell. Scientists are now researching
the potential of stem cells in regenerative and reparative medicine.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that “renew themselves
over long periods of time through cell division.” They
may also be either adult cells or embryonic cells that can be
programmed for certain functions through exposure to experimental
or physiological conditions.
While some are derived from umbilical cords, most embryonic
stem cells are derived from human embryos that are created
in vitro fertilization in a lab.
Four to five days after the fertilization, the embryo forms
a hollow ball of cells, called a blastocyst.
The cells are
from the inner cell mass, a mass of approximately 30 cells near
the end of the inside of the blastocyst. These cells are then
cultured in the lab, and can be left undifferentiated or be cultivated
into certain kinds of cells through exposure to certain laboratory
Specially differentiated cells cultivated in the lab can then
be transplanted into patients for the treatment of numerous diseases
and paralysis. Some of the diseases that stem cells could possibly
cure are: Parkinson’s disease (Michael J. Fox is also a
supporter of stem cell research), diabetes, blood disease, heart
disease, and even cancer.
Recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, authorized
$3 million of state funding to support stem cell research.
Paralysis like Reeve’s is just one of the conditions that
embryonic stem cells could possibly cure. Stem cells have been
successfully programmed into spinal-cord tissue, according to
the Oct. 25 issue of Newsweek. These cells could then be implanted
in paralysis victims. The implanted cells would then repair and
replace the damaged tissue, restore movement and feeling, and
allow the person to walk again.
The controversy arises because some people believe embryos
are human beings—despite the fact they are not implanted in
a human womb and expected to be born. The embryos used to cultivate
stem cells are created from a surplus of frozen zygotes (sperm
and egg cells), with the permission of the donors. Currently,
there are tens of thousands of surplus embryos across the country,
just taking up space in freezers instead of saving lives.
Embryonic stem cell research should not be considered a controversial
topic when it comes down to saving lives. Each of us might one
day find ourselves with a condition that can be treated with
the use of stem cells. Reeve remained a superhero until the end,
through championing a cause that could save numerous people.
In his memory, we should all support the cause he fought so hard
for. Election Day is here, use your voting power to speak out
to politicians and make sure that Reeve’s work lives on.
For more information on stem cell research and how you can
help, visit: stemcells.nih.gov. For more information about
Reeve, visit the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF)