What Are Stem Cells?
Use of stem cells has been debated for more than a decade and is still being talked about today. But what are they? Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that come from the human embryo. Under the right conditions, these cells can divide quickly and regenerate themselves. Since they are undifferentiated, these cells can turn into any differentiated cell. These cells have a more specific function and include blood, brain, heart, and bone cells. Due to the flexibility of stem cells, they have the potential to replace diseased cells that otherwise wouldn’t regenerate. Though this seems like a great area for study, others believe that this practice is unethical and should be banned. However, supporters of stem cell research, believe that this is a way to potentially save lives. Thus, stem cells research should be allowed so that cures to human diseases can be found.
What Can Stem Cells Potentially Cure?
Stem cells can be a great help in treatments called cell-based therapies. An example of this would be replacing organs. In today’s society, patients would have to rely on a donor to receive a new organ replacement. Issues with this method may be that the patient can’t wait, or there is not enough supply. A solution would be to use stem cells. Since stem cells are capable of becoming any type of cell, this opens the possibility of the cells being able to replace the damaged ones and regenerate body tissues.
Other scenarios where stem cells could replace nonrenewable cells would be in patients with Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, heart disease, and Parkinson’s or any type of neurological problem. Even better, if stem cells were allowed, researchers might be able to cure any human disease.
Stem cells may also aid in drug development and testing. Stem cells could be differentiated in order to use for testing a certain medicine that could be effective in curing said disease. An example could include a stem cell being converted into a nerve cell. A medicine for a nerve disease could be tested on an isolated cell instead of a live human. This testing increases the safety of new drugs, and it tests their effectiveness without harming someone.
The Controversy Behind It
There has always been big controversy around stem cells. The sole reason for this is because stem cells are derived from human embryos. During the process, the embryo is destroyed at just five days old, which can go against people’s beliefs about when the start of human life is. These beliefs are different for everybody as everyone has varying views as to when life starts. However, this argument is completely irrational because they are implying that an embryo’s life is just as important as a grown child’s, one that could be saved via a solution derived from stem cell testing.
In 2001, President Bush, who had strong pro-life beliefs, decided to ban funding for stem cell research. Luckily, when Obama became president, some of the restrictions were taken away and stem cell research continued.
Stem cells are a huge weapon in fighting human diseases. Even though some say it is immoral, the benefits of using the stem cells outweigh the negative factors by a landslide. As time goes on, new advancements and alternatives are being made. IPS cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, are starting to be researched. IPS cells are not derived from embryos, which eliminates that ethical concern, and they are similar to stem cells. However, these IPS cells have the potential to turn into an embryo, producing a clone. This problem raises yet another ethical question. As you can see, this debate may never end as new questions are being uncovered with every new advancement made. It should not take away from the fact that stem cell research is vital to curing the incurable.
There are ways you can help aid research of stem cells too. One of the most important steps is to make sure you know what you’re supporting. Know by looking up articles so you understand the argument for and against stem cells. Another great idea is to write to your legislators and let them know that you happily support stem cell research. This shows them that you want to see an end to terrible diseases.
[Image Attribute: Tarek Salahuddin]