Stem Cell Research
What is the cure to Parkinson's? Will there ever be a reliable treatment to Alzheimer's? Can man cure cancer? What used to be considered an impossibility to the world of science is now reality, with the development and use of stem cells. In modern science, stem cells can be accurately depicted as one of the most fascinating, yet controversial subjects in biology. Research on these cells is advancing knowledge in both how a living organism can develop from a single cell and how healthy cells can be used to replace damaged cells within the organism. With the continuing of this ongoing research, the possibility of cell-based treatments for disease is growing every year.
In short, stem cells are cells which hold the capability of developing into a wide variety of types of cells in the body. These cells can grow and divide without limit to replenish and restore damaged cells in a living organism, such as red blood cells, muscle cells and even brain cells. Stem cells can also develop into more important cells such as the cells created to pump a heart or the insulin-producing cells in the liver. Primarily, scientists use two different types of stem cells: Embryonic and adult stem cells. Human embryonic stem cells are the most desired and are typically taken from a human embryo created for infertility purposes only. Here lies the growing controversy over this particular form of research. Obtaining a human embryonic stem cell requires the destruction of a human embryo and/or therapeutic cloning. Such is the controversy with expecting mothers getting abortions, many religious and pro-life activists argue that the embryo, even in its first three weeks of life (which is the desired age to retrieve a stem cell), is nonetheless a human life in its own, and they refer to those scientists extracting the stem cells as first-degree murderers.
While many persist to disagree, embryonic experimentation researchers Michael J. Meyer and Lawrence Nelson argue that "Donating embryos for such research, even though it involves their destruction, can be consistent with genuine respect for them." Just as present-day human cadavers are used for dissection and further experimentation, why can't embryonic experimentation obtain the same level of acceptance and respect? Further, unlike abortions, stem cell research is done with human embryos donated or created for the sole purpose of advancing scientific development. And with the benefits of extracting stem cells from a three week old embryo, the potential constantly increases for the curing and further treatment of many modern diseases. Earlier this year in fact, newly elected President Barack Obama uplifted previously set limitations on stem cell research by President Bush and the Bush administration, giving way to further funding towards the research.
By researching and using human embryonic stem cells, biologists can better determine what happens in the early stages of the development of life, and the causes of many diseases and birth defects can potentially be discovered this way. Even more important in the eyes of science is the potential to use stem cells for cell-based therapies, which is basically the replacing of damaged cells with healthy ones. As of today, the most popular form of regeneration is what is known as an organ transplant, in which a new organ replaces a damaged organ in hopes of treating any internal defects caused by the faulty organ. However, the need for transplants outweighs the available supply. The supply of stem cells though, is virtually endless. Through the use of stem cell-based therapy, treatments of diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and many others is within the grasp of possibility. In fact, according to Dr. Lawrence C.B. Chan and colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas, the gene that helps induce the liver to produce insulin has been discovered, and through the use of stem cell extraction, a series of mice diagnosed with type 1 diabetes were cured, so maybe this future isn't as far away as scientists had previously assumed.
While the controversy over stem cell research is constantly growing, none can argue the results it has produced to modern science. With high hopes of treating previously untreatable diseases, stem cell research is at a high in both research and funding in the United States. What lies in the future of this particular research? Only time will show.
Stem Cell Basics. Stem Cell Information. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009. July 16, 2009. http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics
How Respect and Religion Manifest Themselves in the Stem Cell Debate. WiseTo Social Issues. 2007. July 16, 2009. http://socialissues.wiseto.com/Articles/FO3020630126/
Scientists Discover Gene That Helps Induce Liver To Produce Insulin. StemCellResearchNews.com. March 16, 2009. July 16, 2009. http://www.stemcellresearchnews.com/absolutenm/anmviewer.asp?a=1618&z=9
Barack Obama 'to reverse Bush policy on stem cell research and oil drilling'. TimesOnline. November 10, 2008. July 16, 2009. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article5122336.ece