Stem Cells: Introduction
The very basis of life, the phenomenon of the cell, has been an aspect of awe in biology and biochemistry since Robert Hooke’s beginning Cell Theory. Through advances in biotechnology with improved observation and scientific tools, scientists are studying the possibilities of altering cells to assist in the cure of disease. The Cell, the known building block of life, has taken on a new aspect. In 1968 the first successful bone marrow transplant was performed. The possibilities for regenerative medicine, using the chameleon Stem Cell, took off from that point. The what, how, and where of stem cells are answers that can be researched, however the underlying ethical questions and the best way to proceed into the field of regenerative medicine remain more difficult. (Murnaghan)
What exactly is a stem cell? A stem cell is an undeveloped cell capable of constructing other cells within the body. Nerve cells, blood cells, and organs can be prompted out of the tiny stem cell. The potential within the cells is not limited; a very appealing resource for advances in medicine. Patients with Leukemia have already been treated with stem cell transplants, having a success rate of 85-94% among AML patients. (Roswell) Such figures are promising, yet the matter of stem cell research is not as simple as one could hope.
How do stem cells operate? As previously mentioned, stem cells are easy manipulated. They contain the potential to create any cell in the human body. They undergo long-term self-renewal, division over time into the same non-specialized cell. Such aspects of these cells are made use of in processes such as somatic cell nuclear transfer: or putting a piece of adult cell DNA into a stem cell to develop into eventual multipotent-those used for bone marrow- cells.
Where are stem cells found? This particular question generates the majority of stem cell opposition. The most successful experiments of the past done with stem cells required the use of human embryos, discarded as medical waste from in vitro fertilization. Although making use of what would otherwise have been wasted is logical, the thought of such means is blatantly immoral to most casual viewers and still unsettling for informed individuals. Other sources of stem cells have been used, such as simple adult cells, however, the nature of stem cell research in general and the implication it brings on topics such as human cloning hinder major progress in stem cell research.
Advances in science and medicine have been substantial in recent times. The versatile stem cell has been an aspect of such advances. What stem cells are, how they are used and where they are found are questions answered in a fairly straight-forward matter. Whether or not stem cells should be used or what the future of regenerative medicine holds remains a larger question.
Stem Cells: Are They Worth the Costs?
Stem cells have been used in the medical world with general success. In particular patients with blood diseases and grim prospects have benefitted from stem cell treatments. Scientists have even developed methods of using adult stem cells in more suitable ways, as to move away from experimenting with embryos. This field, however, is new and unknown, and several studies indicate that potential harm can come from stem cell use. These findings, though perhaps meager-seeming, do give incentive to use caution with such a potent element. Stem cells, though promising, should be humanely sourced, carefully observed and used only when in great need.
Stem cells should only be experimented with if they come from a humane source. Medical-waste embryos, salvaged to use in science, can be argued as logical sources of embryonic research. (Anft) However, thoughts of the future are disconcerting. If increased research and resulting demand surpassed the supply of extra embryos, a macabre prospect of an embryo market arises. Making use of what would be wasted is one thing, but finding a future supply is another, harder to defend option. However, a hopefully discovery, made by the Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group at the University of Western Australia in 2007, shows sources of embryonic stem cells in human breast milk. (Thomas) Such a non-invasive, and abundant source leaves no excuse for continued research on embryos. Additionally, the use of adult stem cells has been used in bone-marrow transplants.
Since stem cell treatments are still fairly new, the long-term effects of introducing modified cells as therapy have not been recorded. Stem cells use should be carefully observed and cautiously studied before use. The University of California, San Diego recently found stem cells implanted into mice caused an immune system attack in the mice, and the organs were rejected. (Saey) Although this was one study, there have been additional concerns expressed that reprogrammed stem cells, based on their nature, likely would turn cancerous. What would prevent these potent chameleons from continuing to grow? As Chad Tang, a stem biologist at Stanford states “The iPS cell phenomenon is so new and so hyped up that it’s good we’re taking a step back to ask what they really can do.” Therefore, the wisest choice of action would be to cautiously use humanely sourced stem cells and to observe them carefully.
Stem cells should only be used if in great need. Although the cons of stem cells have been previously mentioned, and though not all stem cell treatments are successful, it is true that people have benefited especially from adult cord blood treatment for diseases such as leukemia and cerebral palsy. (UPI, figure 2) As such, until the full nature of stem cells can be experiments, and until safety of using stem cells can be decided, only patients in great need should use treatments.
The controversial stem cell holds a plethora of potential within its microscopic structure. Stem cells should be humanely sourced, monitored cautiously, and because of these aspects only used for patients in dire need. Whatever the future holds for biochemical medicine, each consumer should consider: Are stem cells worth the cost?
Anft, M. (2009, April). Tiny cells, huge possibilites. Johns Hopkins Magazine, 61(2), p. 1-9.
Gibbs, N., Park, A. & Cray, D. (2006, August 7). Stem cells the hope and the hype. Time, 168(6), p40.
Murnaghan, I. (2014, January 24). History of stem cell research. Retrieved from http://www.explorestemcells.co.uk/historystemcellresearch.html
Roswell Park Cancer Institute. (2013, May 28). Significantly improved survival rates for stem cell transplant recipients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130528180857.htm
Saey, Tina Hesman. "Lab-mad stem cells fail a test." Science News 179.12 (2011): p. 13. EBSCOhost. Web. 31 Jan 2014.
Susman, C. (2012, December 11). Stem cell use remains tough topic. Palm Beach Daily News, p. A.6.
Thomas, A. (2012, May 9). Sourcing stem cells from breast milk. ABC Science Online. 31 Jan 2014.
1. Getty Images. (Photographer). (2010). [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=c82d9fa6-09d9-4e5c-9311-33bb54908995@sessionmgr110&vid=4&hid=121&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ==
2. UPI. (Photographer). SEN. BROWNBACK LENDS SUPPORT TO ADULT ANDCORD BLOOD STEM CELL RESEARCH: [Web Photo]. Retrieved fromhttp://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=c82d9fa6-09d9-4e5c-9311-33bb54908995@sessionmgr110&vid=8&hid=121&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ==