From bumper stickers to news reports, to conversations at the dining room table, America has stem cells on the brain. Stem cells have the possibility to save lives of both the young and the old and they open the doors to a world of medical advancement. There are biological concerns as well as ethical concerns about the true benefits of stem cells. Today I would like to take us on a journey that will expand our knowledge of stem cell research by using recorded medical evidence from a variety of reputable sources to provide us with undeniable reasons why stem cell research should be supported.
Let me attempt to clarify and define the three different types of stem cells. One type of stem cell is the adult stem cell. Adult stem cells are found in any organ of the body. They are simply the most basic cell of that organ. For example, a liver contains stem cells that develop into liver cells to form the liver. Stem cells remain in the liver after it is formed to repair damage that the liver may attain during a person's lifetime. (NIH July 2004) This type of stem cell is considered to be an undifferentiated stem cell, which means it has not yet become a specialized stem cell. From this basic point it can become any type of cell in the organ in which it exists. One type of adult stem cell that most people already know of is found in bone marrow. These stem cells are called totipotent hemopoietic stem cells. This literally means that they have the potential to change into any type of cell contained in the blood.
Another type of stem cell and the newest discovered is the cord blood stem cell. Cord blood stem cells are the stem cells from the blood that remains in the portion of the umbilical cord that it still attached to the placenta after the birth of a child. These cells are very similar to those in bone marrow and are used for the same purpose. (Wikipedia 2005)
The third type of stem cell is the embryonic stem cell. These stem cells are found in the very early stages of an embryo. After the sperm fertilizes the egg, a grouping of cells is formed called the morula. (Clearly Explained.com 2002) The morula consists of eight to sixteen identical cells and is form four days after fertilization. After the embryo has developed five days, it forms a blastocyst and this is when the stem cells are taken from the morula. During the blastocyst stage the embryo is traveling through the fallopian tube and has not yet implanted itself in the uterine wall. This is most controversial way to acquire stem cells. Unlike adult stem cells which al already in use today.
As I mentioned before adult stem cells can be found in bone marrow. Many leukemia patients have been saved by the use of bone marrow transplants. During a bone marrow transplant, an unhealthy patient's bone marrow is replaced with a healthy bone marrow from a donor. Within the bone marrow of a patient with leukemia, the leukocytes grow abnormally, which results in the underproduction of white blood cells. (Genetic Science Learning Center 2005) White blood cells are needed in the body to fight off diseases. The stem cells from the healthy donor then multiply to regenerate the production of white blood cells. In July of 2000, BBC news reported of a medical finding that bone marrow stem cells were found in the livers of liver transplant patients. Researchers at the imperial College School of Medicine say that this finding means that the bone marrow stem cells were used in regenerating the cells of the liver. "Adult stem cells can offer a great promise in medicine as they may generate the full spectrum of cell types needed to repair a damaged organ." (Dr. Malcom Allison) Adult stem cells have proven very useful in medicine but are not as easily accessible as the cord blood stem cell.
Cord stem cells are the most recently discovered stem cells. These kinds of stem cells can develop into any kind of blood cell. They ca develop into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Therefore these stem cells, like the adult stem cells are totipotent. Unlike bone marrow stem cells, cord stem cells do not have to be an exact match to the patient in which they will be used. The stem cells from one cord blood donor can be used in many patients. (March of Dimes 2005) These cells are also very beneficial because they can be harvested at birth and stored for use in the future. The Korean Times reported in November of 2004 that a woman who had not been able to walk for 19 years is now able to walk with the aid of a walker thanks to cord blood stem cells. This miracle was achieved by injecting the cord blood stem cells directly into the spinal cord. "The sensory and motor nerves of the patient started to improve 15 days after the operation and she could move her hips. After 25 days her feet responded to stimulation."(Korean Times) Cord blood stem cells have a lot of potential since they are more useful than the adult stem cell and less controversial than the embryonic stem cell.
Many advances have been made due to the embryonic stem cell. Embryonic stem cells are considered to be the best form of stem cells to use because of their ability to change into any type of cell in the body. These cells are the most basic stem cell and are in a much earlier stage than the other two types. Because of this, they are unspecialized or have not been assigned to become a specific type of cell, which is what enables scientists to designate the specific type of cell that is needed. In one study, done by researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, embryonic stem cells were injected into the brains of mice embryos that were predisposed for a type of degenerative heart defect. "The result was that fifty percent of the mice fated to die in the womb were born with healthy hearts." (Dr. Robert Benezra PhD) After the stem cells were injected into the mice's hearts they regenerated and repaired the damaged tissue. What this means, is that in the future we may be able to use embryonic stem cells to cure many different types of human heart diseases with the same process.
It seems as though the country is divided on the issue of stem cell research. There are people who support the research because they think it will eventually cure diseases and there are people who do not support the research because some of it involves the destruction of innocent embryos. Although our country is divided on this issue it is not divided on the issue of abortion. Under the democracy in which we live the people of our nation have used their rights to vote for representatives that share the same beliefs as the individual voter. The result of these votes have proven that the majority of America voted for judges and senators and other representatives that believe in supporting a woman's right to chose. This means that abortions are going happen whether they are desired unanimously by the entire nation or not. Under the current laws an aborted fetus cannot be used for stem cell research and must be thrown away as waste. "On August 9, 2001, at 9:00 p.m. EDT, the President announced his decision to allow Federal funds to be used for research on existing human embryonic stem cell lines as long as prior to his announcement (1) the derivation process (which commences with the removal of the inner cell mass from the blastocyst) had already been initiated and (2) the embryo from which the stem cell line was derived no longer had the possibility of development as a human being." (Office of the director NIH) This means that no new stem cell lines can be created. "The dilemma I was faced with was do I allow the destruction of life in order to advance science." (George Bush 2005) Because of the fact that abortion continues to be legal the destruction of life happens regardless of the advance of science. "What we are talking about is 400,000 embryos that are going to be destroyed as medical waste." (Allison Dobson) Abortion cannot be stopped but by supporting the continuation of stem cell research we can ensure that no life goes to waste.
Stem cell research has enabled us to make medical advances that we once thought impossible. All of the types of stem cells are very important to the human society for the use of curing diseases. We already use adult stem cells in bone marrow transplants. Scientists have used cord blood stem cells to give the gift of walking back to a paraplegic. Embryonic stem cell research has the possibility of regenerating any cell in the body. Now that we have come to the end of our journey, I hope that I have given the necessary basic knowledge it will take to make an informed decision to continue in the support of stem cell research.
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National Institutes of Health. (July, 192004). Stem cell basics. Retrieved July 22, 2005 from
National Cord Blood Program. (2003-2004). Cord blood q and a. Retrieved July 22, 2005 from http://www.nationalcordbloodprogram.org/qa
Strong Fertility and Reproductive Science Center. The ivf process. Retrieved July 22, 2005 from
Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia. Stem cell. Retrieved July 23, 2005 from http://en.org/wiki/stem_cell#Adult_stem_cells
March of Dimes. (July 2002). Umbilical cord blood. Retrieved July 22, 2005 from http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/681_1160.asp
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Embryonic stem cells correct congenital heart defect in mouse embryos. Retrieved July 22, 2005 from http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/52225.cfm
Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah. Stem cell therapies today. Retrieved July23, 2005 from http://gslc.genetics.utah.edu/units/stemcells/sctoday/
BBC News. (July 200). Stem cells promise liver repair. Retrieved July23, 2005 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/841932.stm
The Korean Times. (November 2004). Korean scientists succeed in stem cell therapy. Retrieved July 23, 2005 from http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/200411/kt2004112617575710440.htm
USA Today. (August Second, 2005). Bush firm on limiting stem cell research. Retrieved August, 23 2005 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-08-02-bush-firm-stem-cells_x.htm