Stem cell research has the potential to be that cure-all, but because the source of the cells is tied up with the right to life debate, federal researchers' ability to do promising research is pinned to politics.
A poll by Research America reports that 65 percent of Americans support stem cell research by the National Institutes of Health. Great Britain's Parliament voted at the end of last year to permit stem cell research in the UK.
But President Bush's pro-life stance and campaign promise to halt embryonic stem cell research threaten to drastically slow promising research here.
From conception through the first few cellular divisions, a human embryo is made of stem cells. These cells are considered primitive because they have not yet developed into any of the more specialized cells in the body.
If they can catch the cells in that window, scientists can use chemical signals to develop these basic cells into any cells in the body, including those in the pancreas, nerves, brain, and heart. These cells could then be used to repair parts of the human body damaged by disease or injury.
While the process has nothing to do with abortion or fetal tissue debates, this is a hot political and moral issue because human embryos must be destroyed to harvest the stem cells.
The embryos come from fertility clinics, where doctors create more embryos during in-vitro fertilization than the couple needs. They implant some in the woman, then freeze the rest. Thousands of human embryos are sitting in fertility clinic freezers right now with very little hope of ever reaching their full potential as human beings.
But those who believe life begins at conception would say the embryos are human beings already, and scientists are murdering them. And so the right-to-life lobby enters the scene. To them, this kind of research is akin to the Nazis making lampshades out of human skin.
The graphic imagery is enough to make your skin crawl, but it's not a valid analogy to what's happening in embryonic stem cell research.