Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stem cell summit zeroes in on ethics Nearly 1,000 in Detroit debate risks and benefits

Her contribution to science may be the reason you are alive today.

But Henrietta Lacks of Virginia never knew that the cells scraped from her cervical tumor would be crucial in the development of the polio vaccine and cancer research. She was poor and had little formal education. She died at age 31, soon after her cells were taken -- without her knowledge -- in 1951.

So does the medical benefit to countless millions outweigh the absence of her consent?

Lacks' story -- revealing the incalculable benefits of her cancerous cells, which became the first stem-cell line -- highlights the ethical considerations that continue to play a role in the handling of human tissue. A discussion of those ethical boundaries kicked off a http://www.worldstemcellsummit.com" target="_blank">three-day conference on stem cells Monday in Detroit. Organizers say the event has drawn nearly 1,000 scientists, industry leaders, patients and members of the public.

The discussion also highlighted lingering concerns in the nascent field of human embryonic stem-cell research, which involves the destruction of human embryos.

The ethical questions in science today are even more complicated than they were in 1951, when Lacks became an unwitting contributor, said University of Michigan professor Edward Goldman, who teaches a class on legal rules and ethical issues for clinical research.

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