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Embryonic Stem Cell Patents Banned in EU

Yesterday, the European Court of Justice banned the issuing of patents for embyronic stem cell research, stating:

A process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented.

The decision has caused widespread concern amongst European stem cell researchers, yet has been welcomed by other groups on moral, ethical or religious grounds.

So why is it such a hot topic?

Human Embryonic Stem Cells (Nissim Benvenisty, via Wikimedia Commons)

Human Embryonic Stem Cells (Nissim Benvenisty, via Wikimedia Commons)

Use the resources here, and others that you can find, to discuss the following questions in your group. Be prepared to feed back to the class with a summary of no more than 5 minutes.

  • What are (embryonic) stem cells and how do their properties facilitate research?
  • Where are stem cells found? Are they all the same?
  • How do stem cells eventually become differentiated and specialised?
  • Outline at least one recent successful therapeutic use of stem cells.
  • Identify a range of stakeholders in the debate. What are their views and reasons for them?
  • Can you propose potential solutions or workable compromises that could reduce the impact of the ban on scientific research?


EuroStemCell’s Stem Cell Story (with a load of great, free resources and videos on their website)

Some write-ups on this news story here:

About Stem Cells:


Theory of Knowledge

The embryonic stem cell debate generates strong and emotive knowledge issues, which is evidenced by the fact that the case was passed all the way up to the European Court of Justice. There are many stakeholders in embryonic stem cell research, each with their own knowledge claims and beliefs.

With this recent ban on patenting methods based on the destruction of embryonic stem cells, we add the elements of patenting and intellectual ownership (and of course the knock-on effects to funding, progress and public perception).

To what extent does the embryonic stem cell debate highlight potential conflicts between the areas of knowledge of the natural sciences and ethics and between the ways of knowing of emotion and reason?

After reading through, understanding and discussing the resources, what knowledge issues can you identify?



This follows on from a related story in the USA last year:

Comments have been disabled on this post, but are open on the TOK page for the same content.

Simple ‘eye’ grown from stem cells

A Japanese team of researchers have turned embryonic mouse stem cells into a very basic eye, or ‘optic cup’. This video shows a time-lapse of the cells self-organising into the structure:

As you watch the video and read the article, think about the following curriculum links:

  • How do cells ‘organise’ and how do stem cells become differentiated?
  • What might be the therapeutic uses of this in the future?
  • What functionality does this ‘eye’ have compared to ours?

“Remarkably, the rudimentary eye and the different types of cells it contained took shape spontaneously from a floating cluster of embryonic stem cells the scientists had cultured.”

The Guardian has a good article on the story. The original paper was published in Nature (paywall), but their Scitable area has a very good focus on stem cells.

Deeply Dipity About Interactive Timelines

Create interactive timelines online for free with Dipity. This would be a great tool for revision of historical topics and it can be shared and embedded.

Ed Yong has a neat example on his NotExactlyRocketScience blog, of the timeline of reprogrammed (induced pluripotent) stem cell research:

Reprogrammed stem cells on Dipity

Why use this?

  • It’s free, visual, quick and easy
  • Images, links and videos can be inserted
  • You can connect it with facebook for easy logins (like SlideShare)
  • Sharing is easy, embeds are possible (though not, again)

What could it be used for?

  • Book or topic reports, such as a timeline of Darwin’s life and work.
  • Mapping any time-related topic. History of the Universe, anyone?

Of course, if you’re studying History, Economics or current affairs, it would be an ideal tool.

Stem Cell Foundation: Rock Stars of Science

This is a moving clip from the StemCellFoundation, and their channel has lots of decent, informative video clips. Check it out.

Stem cells used in trachea transplant

Doctors have successfully used stem cells in a rejection-free transplant of a trachea.

This is a great example of internationalism in science – the patient was Colombian, the hospital in Barcelona, stem cells cultivated in Bristol and the final stage of the windpipe construction completed in Milan.

Check your understanding:

Did they grow a new trachea from scratch?

How did they prevent rejection of the tissue?

There is a good short reader on the NewScientist website.

The original research paper was published by The Lancet.

And another video on National Geographic.

Mice cloned from frozen bodies

So cloning is nothing new, but for the first time we see healthy lab mice cloned from the cells of dead mice – some articles are calling this a ‘resurrection’, although it is nothing of the sort.

It is, however, a big step forward for genetic reserach – lifting the possibility of cloning long-extinct species out of the realms of pure science fiction and into the ‘almost there’ zone. A team of Japanese researchers from Kobe, Japan, used a modified method to clone these mice from tissues that had been frozen for up to 16 years.

Here’s a clip from Japanese news, with a really clear section showing what looks like the insertion of the nucleus into an egg:

For a useful reader, here is the NewScientist article. Here’s another one from the Guardian.

As ever, one of the best reading sources is the Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, where Ed Yong tackles the research paper directly in his article and makes it easy to understand. Check it out here.

Learning idea: ‘dub’ the Japanese clip into your own language, using the information from the articles above.

How did they achieve it? How does it differ from normal cloning? What surprising results did they encounter?

Try to get your story to complement the images in the video clip.

I can just see Jeff Goldblum‘s gurning face as runs for his life from a cloned dodo…

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