Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita

Ratings: 7.37/10 from 19 users.


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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39 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Jack M.

    "we should not use public money to further the destruction of human life"

    i just had to rewind that several times to believe what i was hearing

  2. Anonymous Coward

    I wish this were less about the Kessler family and more about the actual subject at hand. What an annoying and obnoxious family--or so the videography/lead acting reveal. Lobster for dinner? A staged phone call? Come on, save me the time of flashing your bling, please. I have my own luxurious life to live. Why does PBS think the "reality TV" approach is a good thing?

    Also, Dr. Kessler: how does your daughter's accident or making her walk again imply that adopting technology with potentially awful consequences (social, biological and otherwise) as soon as possible based on personal or emotional reasons a good idea? Aren't you a scientist, sir?

  3. Nada

    First off, I wanted to mention, as a mother of an amazing boy born through IVF, it is difficult for me to see past the fact that he was once an embryo that may never have existed if used for stem cell treatment.

    Secondly, I'm REALLY disturbed by the fact that Dr. Kessler failed to mention that the 2-3 steps he showed when removing and adding DNA did not take into account fertilizing the egg with sperm. There is no way for the egg to divide without it.

    Lastly, I agree with Anonymous Coward, I found the family annoying, obnoxious and fake.

    Having said all that, I don't know how I would feel if I knew of a loved one whose condition could possibly be cured through stem cell research. It's a hard call, either way.

  4. louiseiiid

    What is wrong with you people? How can this dynamic, dedicated family annoy you? How dumb.

    My husband suffered a broken neck in 96 and had damage from C6, about the same as the blonde girl in the film.

    In those days the only place you could even talk about spinal repair of this type was in Mexico.

    I talked to the nursing staff and doctors who generally were of the opinion that such research was immoral. These same people allowed my husbands duodenal feeding tube to malfunction until he died from the gallons of gloop in his abdomen left no room for his heart and lungs to function.

    I watched him die. They ignored his pleas for help, these morally upstanding frauds.

    NO ONE should have anything to say on this matter until they know wtf they are really talking about. 'Annoying, obnixious and fake' Grrrrrr. Wait until it's you or your loved one lying there at the complete mercy of lazy and sadistic freaks calling themselves nurses.

  5. Running out of time

    I have a condition that might be cured or at least my lifespan prolonged should this type of research continue and work. I also have a child, still not 1 years old. I'm also under 30 myself.

    I can't believe there are people so arrogant as to say to my face, that God has a plan and mysterious are His ways, so we're making this call for Him, and it says that no stem cell research allowed. So, I would like to see a group of these people who have a limited amount of time to live, who are still young, and have a small baby (who might also inherit this condition). This all seems VERY unchristian to me. Why do you people even take Aspirin, since it is intervening with God's plans for you, and many other drugs that prolongs YOUR life, or YOUR pains. Why are you intervening, and saying to the rest of us that we need to go?

    That's exactly what you're saying as long as you take Aspirin, afforded to us by science. Sure, they did not user embryos in developing it, but abortion is rarely done in the name of science. So because some of you feel like it's benefiting from abortion, OTHER people cannot have any hope left? I have some words for you but I try to remain civilized. In my closing statement, I only say that I am also a scientist AND a Christian as well. I believe in God, and the way some of us act and make "decisions" for the rest of us based on "moral values" deriving from the Bible, all I can say is that it's time smarten up. Until you yourself are about to die or your child is about to die, I suggest you shut the hell up, or we can make a deal, where we risk going to hell for it, and you don't get the medicine or treatment when it becomes available, or your kids. Deal?

  6. VV

    There is no god. If you want to change the future it is because you do things to change it. Nothing is given to you just by asking or wanting it. The future is of our collective making.

  7. VV

    OK I wish this documentary would deal more with the actual science. I really feel like mocking people who feel sorry about using mice, or animal testing in general. OK at 47:54 I want to murder that priest. :D - or maybe even better break his neck so he can be changed for the better. "In mysterious ways" is indefinite and a useless answer. Similar to the answer of 'God' to all deep questions. I wonder why the daughter didn't want to be a doctor like her father?

    Still even if ethics limit the US - other countries will take up the slack.

  8. Yavanna

    Religion and it's retarded "morals" should have absolutely no say on the matter. It's not "ethics" that is limiting the U.S but rather the stranglehold of religion(s) on its politics.

    The same pressure groups say little or nothing of the "ethics" involved in the use of depleted uranium ammo. The malformed babies being born due to their use is nothing short of criminal. Nor do they deal with their own in house "ethical" disorders such as paedophile priests.

    Not a bad doc overall, but like others I would have preferred more science and less family bio.

    Oh and Nada; breakthroughs in medical science gave you your son and you would be the first to use the possible benefits of this new science should he ever be injured and it could help. I honestly don't believe any of us would find that a hard call to make.

  9. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    What is the purpose of your life in a Godless????

  10. Yavanna

    Nagh no offence taken. To assume that such contrite views as yours could do so is to imagine you imply meaning beyond your own dogged indoctrinated putrid existence.

    "what is the purpose of your life in a Godless????"

    What is a sentence that means something? Call me old fashioned but if we are going to contemplate the infinite and metaphysical universe the least you could do is construct an intelligent question.

    Like the new name though!

    Let me extrapolate your question from your jumble of words (long cold days in that cave stunt the brain - it's to be expected.)

    "What is the meaning of my life without a belief in a God"

    The same as it is without the belief in pixies, fairies, trolls (well with the exception of people like you - but that is just a play on words) My life has meaning because I extract all meaning from my life. I don't exist to perform some imagined death duty . I live AND I live to live. I don't need some fairy god father to come and save me from inexplicable "sins" invented by whoever - sorry - this is boring. CBA to go further.

  11. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    I disagree!Your life has no meaning at all ! "My life has meaning because i extract all meaning from my life & I live AND I live to live ", could you explain your circular reasoning a bit more??? Look harder from the beginning of the universe , you do believe you are a here because of a freak accident of nature!Thus, your existence or nonexistence is like a dog living on a street who cares if you die!So, killing yourself doesn't matters at all but it would be service to all believers and i don't mind if you give all you atheistards the same advice! This is why people like Richard Dawkins are disgusting they don't understand their own nihilistic philosophy !Forget about Christianity for a moment consider this don't you think the universe is really odd ????

  12. Yavanna

    CDR you challenge the very basics of the theory of evolution; You are a throw back to a less enlightened time and probably would have loved to have been around for the inquisition and the like. Yes with you in it the Universe IS really odd.

    My reasoning is in no way circular, just you do not have the intelligence to understand it.

    Once more you insist I should go kill myself (all atheists infact) and do all the believers a service. That must be the Christian spirit of love and forgiveness shining through! It is not Atheists praying for the rapture. We do not believe in fairy tales, but every so often a vile contemptuous freak like you comes along and I wish there was a hell for you to go to. Or I wish that the "rapture" would just hurry up and take people like you away.

    Back to your cave Mr Troll.

  13. allan


    LOL. I too sometimes wonder how shocked these self rightous religous nuts would be when their rapture comes and they find out that they don;t qualify to get into heaven.

  14. allan

    P.S - You don't have to explain your "circular reasoning" to me. It makes perfect sense as far as I'm concerned.

  15. Yavanna

    TY Allan, That's because it isn't circular reasoning. That's a strawman always put up when people don't understand. I truly hope they do get into their heaven however. Sounds like my version of hell to me. That would be justice for this person.

  16. Anonymous Hero

    Anonymous Coward

    Are you implying that it is wrong to make decisions based on personal experience and interests? Is it wrong to vote for a political party that shares your personal political interests? Is it wrong to not hang out in the same neighborhood where you've been robbed? If the answer is yes, then how does one learn any lessons in life? This is a definite "Duhhhhhhhh" moment for me.

    As a diabetic I advocate stem cell research 100%. I feel the "potential awful consequences" are highly overrated and exaggerated. Let's however imagine they are as bad as you wish. My answer to that would be; "No pain, No gain."

  17. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    You just proved my point, as you remove the pompous chatter from the illegitimate children of new age atheist movement and delve deeper in issues they have no real meaning and try to take refuge in the logical constructs which they blame the religious to be violating! Don't take my suggestions literally of killing yourselves but justify it to the world why your position is correct! You people are living in self-conceit and really are living hollow lives ! Ok! Now i gotta go hunt a deer ,if thats makes you happy to assume things about people so be it!

  18. allan


    Would it be wrong to suggest, at least on a scientific level, that the meaning of life is to pro-create?

  19. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    No, not if your a dog, cat or any other animal without consciousness!

    I mean intellect!

  20. allan

    What about the Neanderthal and the other forms of human which have gone exstinct. Did God have no place for them? Or are they in heaven even though they didn't worship him? What makes are species of human so special?

  21. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    About the Neanderthal and other forms of human i don't know what will happen to them ! It's between the creator and them ! I don't profess to know the truth but take a position against people claiming religions as a primitive superstition ! There are some truths that are beyond science and logic! Religions exist because of that and people are attracted to them not because they are stupid or any thing!

  22. allan


    Sorry, I don't mean to imply that YOU are stupid. I really don't mean any disrespect, but if religous people kept their respective faiths to themselves rather then imposing it on issue's such as stem cell research I would not feel the need to subject their faith to scientific scrutiny. Yes it's true that many truths are beyond science, but science continue's to evolve and bring's us closer to these truths which right now may olny seem to be beyond it.

  23. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    I agree! Science and Religion should work in their own domains but at the same time neither should belittle others importance ! Stem cell research is condemned by some people on the religious grounds and i don't agree with them for they are treading on science's domain when clearly it's goal is to help people !Also, I think science has it's moral limits and we know when its crossing them and then we must take action to correct it!

  24. allan

    Galileo was thought to be crossing these limit's. Wouldn't it be god's job to judge when this is happening?

  25. allan

    I don't mean to imply that science doesn't have any moral limit's but rather it's society as a whole that must take action to correct this, and that this should not be done on grounds of religion.

  26. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    The church's position was wrong in this case! People saw science with suspicion back then but i think people do appreciate the value of science now! The matters of human cloning, experiments on humans in Nazi camps, etc where science is doing harm are area's that the science is crossing moral boundaries!

  27. allan

    Well we pretty much have come to an agreement then. In closing I would just like to say that while many people do not believe it god, I hope you can recongize that doesn't mean they live their lives without love, respect, compassion and charity.

  28. Cave Dweller Religitard.

    Ok great! Yes, there are humble good atheists too !

  29. Red Universer

    I don't understand why people are afraid of progress in science and technology especially in case of human biology. Whenever scientists come-up with something good for mankind, they feel scientists are playing God.

    Are the religious beliefs of these people so week that they think the work of the scientists can undo the God's master-plan? Science and religion must go hand-in-hand. Priest and religious leaders must confine themselves to religious duty so that there is no another ending like Galileo. God doesn’t need humans to protect his engineering. God knows when to intervene. PLEASE LET THEM WORK!

  30. riley

    the team from kansas was an amusing sideshow.

    great doc, highly recommended. shows how collaborative
    science can be, despite the argumentation, etc.

    it appears the feathers, originally developed for warmth and
    other purposes, could have become aerodynamic in order
    to propel raptors up trees for protection, child-rearing, been further adapted to promote gliding, and finally elaborated into use for powered flight.

    step by step. that's my theory ;)

  31. riley

    please disregard previous comment -

    it was for a different doc ;)

  32. Some Circular Logic

    "Galileo was thought to be crossing these limit’s. Wouldn’t it be god’s job to judge when this is happening?"

    If god exist, it created the universe - if god created the universe, God wants us to research it and make use of it
    - why would have god created it otherwise; for his own amusement?

  33. Pyrrhus

    An hypothesized, non-defined(described as undefinable) 'thing' the existence of which finds its base solely upon a superstition called the 'supernatural' backed up by nothing, whatsoever!(that is to say, backed up by 'faith'), based further upon bronze age scripts, scrolls and stone age hieroglyphs, is to reign supreme over rational, ethical, debate concerning matters of curative, scientific knowledge.

    How very nice.

    What more evidence do the religious of this world need to convince them that we are, indeed, apes!

  34. Cineplex

    I'm telling you the opposite; If it exists God wants it. I just hope that greedy companies and criminal minds don't use it against humanity.

  35. sam

    wait... so, it is ok to cause suffering in these poor innocent animals, in the "sacred" name of decreasing human suffering? SUffering is suffering... if he wants to justify his work, fine, but stop talking about the name of suffering when you can cripple a healthy animal and still sleep at night.

  36. Rachelle Marcial

    I really loved the documentary and being a final yr. science major I feel compelled to look at the stem cells issue in a very different way. I understand more and instead of just agreeing with what d majority says I believe in d research and that it can help save lives..I think that ethical enough for me

  37. Chad Aaron Leach

    by that logic killing a animal is the same as killing a human yet that is obviously not true considering most butchers dont go to jail for killing and cleaning a carcus.

  38. Tobias MacRobie

    Thank you for being one of the select few to review the video. It sounds like a waste of time for me, because I am kinda 'in the loop" with this research. e.g. UW has a stem cell culture that they revert from a person's skin cells, to create heart muscle. It's called "the patch" and helps recover victims of stroke, or other cardiac arrest.

    If this video doesn't at least incorporate the bounty of knowledge gleaned since someone finally sat GW down and explained that "stem cell" is NOT a synonym for embryo, and the legal restrictions were removed, then it is a waste of time. Deficit for dummies; our national deficit is precisely equal to the amount of money spent on medicare since inception. While the USA banned stem cell research for about a decade, the rest of the world advanced. Huh, our dollar got real cheap. if you do the math, there is a significance there. We are a hack-and-slash medical industry, archaic compared to most modern, civilized countries.

    yet people here are busily debating life and religion. Surely this video is lacking, just like our industry, in modern science. Thank you for the review, VV. =)

  39. Tobias MacRobie

    embryo does not equal stem cell. over 24% of you r adult body is stem cells. The specialized cells can even be reverted to stem cells. Please, educate yourself before you make our species look like the Dodo.

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