Chernobyl HeartMapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita puts a human face on this controversial subject. When neurologist Dr. Jack Kessler’s daughter injured her spine in a skiing accident, he turned his energies toward finding a method to repair damaged spinal cords, re-focusing his research on developing a therapy using embryonic stem cells to regenerate the damaged parts of the nervous system. His research has taken him into a politically very sensitive area in which Catholic and fundamentalist Christian views about the beginning of life exert a powerful influence.

Kessler uses his position to educate the public about the benefits of stem cell research through public speaking engagements and articles for the newspaper. In his work with two graduate students, Vicki and Vibhu, he guides them through a painstaking experiment on mice with spinal damage. In addition, during one of the weekly lab meetings with his students, Kessler discusses the religious objections and misunderstandings regarding stem cell research.

His colleague, Dr. Laurie Zoloth, who shares in Kessler’s public education efforts, also delves into the moral and ethical questions surrounding the research in her classes on bioethics. The questions are difficult ones, involving different religious beliefs and the meaning of human suffering.

Responding to the views of the majority of Americans, Congress passed the Stem Cell Research and Enhancement Act of 2005, which was vetoed by President Bush. Another bill supporting stem cell research made its way though Congress in 2007 and also received a presidential veto. The discussion and debate continue as individual states pass laws affecting stem cell research, while other countries move ahead in this field.

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