Stem cell research involves the genetic handling of undifferentiated cells that were isolated from a specific part of a living organism. Stem cells are capable of generating daughter cells of the equal consistency and thus this process is technically known as self-renewal. This unique characteristic thus provides a novel and revolutionary resource for the transplant of tissues and organs. In addition, these self-renewing cells are also essential components for replacement technologies, as well as bioengineering procedures.
Stem cell research is now considered as an exciting and radical breakthrough in the biomedical field because it allows scientists to investigate on mechanisms to replenish damaged tissues or organs in patients diagnosed with terminal or untreatable conditions. Among the most publicized medical diseases that are the target of stem cell research are Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disorders and spinal cord injury. In general, there are three sources of stem cells in the body. Progenitor stem cells pertain to cells that only produce the same type of cell.
An example of a progenitor stem cell is that derived from the epidermis, which is known to solely generate keratinocytes. The spermatogonium is another example of a progenitor stem cell which can only produce sperm cells. The second source of stem cells is the multipotent stem cell, which is capable of generating different cell types that could complete an entire tissue or organ. Skin stem cells can thus mature into the epidermis, the sebaceous glands and the hair follicles of the skin.
The third source of stem cells is the pluripotent stem cell which has the capacity to differentiate into almost any type of cell. These stem cells are collected from the primordial germ cells of a developing fetus and thus are technically known as embryonic germ cells (Taupin, 2006). Those cells gathered from an embryo’s inner cell mass are technically called embryonic stem cells. The revolutionary discovery of stem cells has thus resulted in the new biomedical research fields of regenerative medicine, which is aspires to provide therapeutic procedures for earlier described incurable diseases.
Unfortunately, this novel technology is also inundated with ethical opposition as it scrutinizes the manner of collecting cellular resources for cell renewal (Hug, 2006). In addition, the concept of providing an endless factory of cells that could replace almost any type of tissue has sparked fear among non-scientific individuals (Snow, 2003). It is thus important to present the benefits of stem cell research on the actual status of human health as of this moment. The most important feature of stem cell research is that this technology provides an avenue for somatic gene therapy (Wobus and Boheler, 2005).
One of the procedures involved in stem cell research is the generation of cells, as well as tissues that could be employed for research investigations. It should be understood that biomedical researches mainly use immortalized cell lines in order to test new pharmaceutical drugs. Immortalized cell lines are also the main resources that are employed in identifying genes that may cause specific medical disorders. The isolation and further propagation of stem cells thus serves as an additional and more reliable source of cells that could facilitate biomedical experiments.
Consequently, the continuous supply of stem cells could thus speed up the experiments and ultimately result in the identification of genes and pharmaceutical drugs that could be distributed to the rest of the world. Stem cell research is also important because it allows the biomedical field to make use of any spare embryos that are being kept in fertilization clinics for months and years. These clinics are known to store eggs that have been isolated from patients in case they would like to undergo an in vitro fertilization procedure in the future.
However, most of these procedures are not performed, as the donor herself decides that she does not want to undergo the procedure. In other cases, several eggs are isolated and stored in the freezer, yet only 1 egg is implanted during the procedure. What is not understood by society is that these surplus eggs are only kept in the freezer for a number of years and once these eggs have been left unclaimed or unused over the past 2 to 5 years, these eggs are discarded.
Stem cell research thus allows these eggs to be used for further studies on almost any topic in biomedical research, which ultimately results in improving health treatments and in saving lives. It is thus a question of finding the lesser evil, if throwing away surplus eggs is less evil than using these unwanted eggs in biomedical research that could find a cure for a particular disease. Stem cell research is also instrumental in the identification of genes, as well as gene mutations that cause specific disorders such as cancer, heart disease and neurological conditions (Tu et al. , 2009).
For example, stem cell research can generate information on how to introduce nerve cells that could replace an injured spinal cord. Society has seen how the actor Christopher Reeves went through his journey through this type of injury and how he wished that stem cell research were allowed in the United States. Other public personalities such as Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali and the late Pope John Paul II, who have all been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which is a neurological disorder that involves the involuntary jerking of external limbs such as the arms and legs.
Through stem cell research, scientists can be provided with cell resources that will allow them to study specific cellular functions that result in specific medical conditions, such as neurological conditions or cardiovascular disorders. These stem cells can also be manipulated, mainly through the removal or addition of entire genes, gene segments, or even single nucleotides, in order to determine its effects on the entire cell, tissue or organ. Any information that could be gathered from stem cell research could be important in building the entire scenario of what went wrong in a particular disease.
Effective treatment strategies can also be tested in these cells, resulting in highly effective and sensitive treatment regimens in the future (Bongso and Lee, 2005). Stem cell research is thus an important component of the biomedical field and thus this endeavor should be supported and appreciated. References Bongso A and Lee EH. (2005). Stem cells from bench to bedside. Singapore: World Scientific Publishers. Hug, K. (2006). Therapeutic perspectives of human embryonic stem cell research versus the moral status of a human embryo: Does one have to be compromised for the other? Medicina (Kaunas), 42, 107-114.
Snow, H. (2003). Stem Cell Research: New Frontiers in Science and Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. Taupin, P. (2006). Derivation of embryonic stem cells for cellular therapy: Challenges and new strategies. Medical Science Monitor, 12, 75-78. Tu, L. C. , Foltz, G. , Lin, E. , Hood, L. and Tian, Q. (2009). Targeting stem cells: Clinical implications for cancer therapy. Current Stem Cell Research Therapies, 4, 147-153. Wobus, A. M. and Boheler, K. R. (2005). Embryonic stem cells: Prospects for developmental biology and cell therapy. Physiological Reviews, 85,635-678.