Medical Technology

Alternatives to Human Embryo Stem Cell Research



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Many people feel that stem cell research is morally repugnant on the grounds that researchers intentionally abort fetuses and take their cells for evil purposes. The fact of the matter is that scientists don’t need to take stem cells from aborted fetuses because they can get them from places like umbilical cords, human skin, human bone marrow, blood, and a variety of other places.

To understand alternatives to embryo stem cell research one must understand the differences between different types of stem cells. First off there are two types of stem cells: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are, in themselves, alternatives to human-embryo stem cell research because they require no embryonic cell extraction. Embryonic stem cells are exactly that: stem cells that come from human embryos. Adult stem cells, as previously stated, come from different parts of a fully matured human body such as the skin, bone marrow, etc.

Most adult stem cells are what is known as either pluripotent or multipotent, meaning that they can become a variety of cells in the body, but there are some that they cannot become. Embryonic stem cells are what is known as totipotent, meaning that they can become absolutely every cell in the body. Differentiating between the types of cells is important when discussing alternatives to embryonic stem cell research because not all stem cells are created equal.

Pluripotent cells are decedents from totipotent cells in that they can become almost every cell. Currently adult cells are able to be transformed into pluripotent cells, after which point they become known as iPS Cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells. Not only are these cells a suitable alternative to embryonic stem cells in many cases, but they are much simpler to obtain due to their availability in all humans.  

In addition to the fact that stem cells are able to differentiate into almost every type of cell in the body stem cells are also able to reproduce an infinite number of times, this is important when thinking about the future of stem cell research. Take, for example, the case of totipotent embryonic cells. The only totipotent cells that scientists know of are found almost immediately after fertilization of an embryo, when the egg has split into approximately 4 cells, after this point the cells begin to differentiate and become pluripotent. The fact that stem cells are able to reproduce an infinite number of times would mean that we would need only one culture of embryonic stem cells to sustain the population of totipotent cells. While this is not exactly an alternative to embryonic stem cells, it is an ideal situation. Genetic engineering allows scientists to implant the DNA they wish into the stem cells, meaning who the stem cells came from makes absolutely no difference.

Playing the morality card when it comes to stem cell research is simply an ineffective argument due to the availability of stem cells and the infinite and immortal nature of stem cells.

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