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Myths & Realities

“There are myths being told about stem cells; where people firmly believe things that just simply aren't true.”
—Dr. Jack Kessler

Stem cell research can be a polarizing issue, rampant with misinformation. Get the myths and the facts on this controversial subject.
(Editor’s note: This page last updated December 3, 2007.)

Myth or Reality?

MYTH
Stem cell research uses aborted fetuses.

REALITY
Stem cells can be totipotent (a fertilized egg with the “total potential” to give rise to all different types of cells in the body), multipotent (stem cells that can give rise to a small number of different cell types), or pluripotent (stem cells that can give rise to any type of cells in the body except those that are needed to develop a fetus). While pluripotent stem cells could be developed from fetal tissue or even adults, they are best derived from early-stage embryos, a mass of cells that is only a few days old—not aborted fetuses.

Myth or Reality?

MYTH
Somatic cell nuclear transfer using human cells involves the use of fertilized eggs.

REALITY
Somatic cell nuclear transfer, the process in which the nucleus from an adult cell is removed and then transferred to an egg whose nucleus has been removed, is the first step in cloning and can be used to create an embryonic stem cell line. However, an egg cell does not need to be fertilized to be used in this procedure—an unfertilized egg cell can be used.

Myth or Reality?

MYTH
Researchers can use adult stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells. Other treatments using adult stem cells are available to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

REALITY
Adult stem cells lack the versatility and flexibility of embryonic stem cells, making them less likely to lead to medical breakthroughs. Embryonic stem cells have a far greater developmental potential and are more likely to be pluripotent, while adult stem cells are thought to be merely multipotent, or restricted to only certain cell types.

In November 2007, Japanese and American research teams reported new ways to obtain stem cells that behaved like embryonic stem cells from human skin cells—without having to use human embryos. This breakthrough holds great promise in solving the ethical dilemmas of stem cell research, but scientists currently still face technical hurdles and the challenge of finding ways to use these stem cells successfully in medical treatments and therapies.

Myth or Reality?

MYTH
Federally funded stem cell research developments might be used by private corporations, to potentially nefarious purposes.

REALITY
Federally funded stem cell research requires scientists to share their data, unlike privately funded research. Individual states can also pass laws to permit stem cell research using state funds, including research that is not necessarily eligible for federal funding.

Myth or Reality?

MYTH
The religious community is united against the scientific community on the issue of embryonic stem cell research.

REALITY
Religious communities are divided on the issue of embryonic stem cell research. The key issue is: What constitutes human life? Embryonic stem cells are derived from a blastocyst, a small ball of cells less than one week old. Opponents believe the blastocyst is a human being and is entitled to the same protections as other humans. Proponents, including many scientists, believe these cell clusters are not human beings and that an embryo is not a person until it is implanted in a woman’s uterus, and is at least two weeks old, when it develops the first signs of a nervous system. Aligned with this view, many Protestant sects and most Islamic and Jewish theologians do not consider a young embryo to be a human being.

Myth or Reality?

MYTH
Stem cell biologists are interested in cloning, and embryonic stem cell research will inevitably lead to reproductive cloning.

REALITY
Reputable researchers are completely opposed to cloning humans and believe that there are compelling scientific, moral and ethical reasons to make human cloning illegal.


Read about the ethical issues raised around stem cell research >>

Find out about legislation regarding stem cell research >>

View a glossary of related terms >>



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