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Jim and the Forgotten Embryos

A Case on Stem Cell-Based Therapy

Miriam Segura-Totten
Department of Biology
University of North Georgia


The goal of this case study is to expose students to the basics of embryonic stem cells, their therapeutic uses, and the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells through the story of a college student, Jim Allison, who becomes paralyzed after a car accident. Jim is approached by a team of doctors to participate in a study where patients are injected with embryonic stem cells in the hopes that these cells will regenerate damaged nerve cells. The case follows Jim and his family as they grapple with the decision of participating in a study that leads to the destruction of embryos. This case study is based loosely on the story of Timothy J. Atchison, the Alabama college student who was the first patient to receive embryonic stem cells as part of a study to determine their effectiveness in treating spinal injuries. It was developed for a non-majors biology class, but can be adapted for use in an introductory biology course.


  • To learn the basics about embryonic and adult stem cells.
  • To learn about the source of embryonic stem cells.
  • To learn how stem cells may be used therapeutically.
  • To discuss the basis of the controversy behind embryonic stem cells.


Stem cells; stem cell therapy; cell-based therapy; stem cell research; embryonic stem cells; adult stem cells; pluripotent; mulitipotent; in vitro fertilization; IVF; bioethics

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Biology (General) Biotechnology Cell Biology

Date Posted


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Francis Sullivan
Metropolitan State College of Denver
Denver, CO
I do like this case study. I am now introducing case studies in my Human Biology class for non-science majors, Among the activities of the class, students write a number of reports during the semester. One of them is entitled "What is stem cell research?" In it, students describe the characteristics of stem cells, the various kinds of stem cells, and the various degrees of potency of stem cells. I provide them with several Internet addresses for material. I ask them to stay away from their opinion on the ethics of stem cell research. My interest is to provide the students with sufficient information about stem cells so that they can address the ethics of stem cell research in their philosophy courses. We discuss this report in class.

Nicole Benenati
Ithaca High School
Ithaca, NY
I modified the case a little to include a visit to to find out what other options were available for the patient. This case helped students better understand stem cells and the role of clinical trials in research. We also discussed the benefits and risks of participation in a study.