Molecular Biology

The Pros and Cons of Stem Cell Research



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Stem cell research has been moving right along towards more uses and aids to medicine and disease control. The uses for stem cells are as limited as the areas they will regenerate. Any cell in the human body can be copied by a stem cell. This type of cell is pluripotent meaning they can become any other type of cell. They are essentially blanks developed in an embryonic egg to produce a fully developed living creature. Stem cells can become heart, lungs, other organs, muscles, bones or any needed cell to create a functional application.
Stem cells are found in fertilized embryos and also in adults in primarily any organ of the body. The adult stem cells are harder to collect and research is continuing in the possible uses of these cells, though they seem more limited at this stage of research development. Stem cells are located in these organs as part of the body's regeneration of damaged and worn out cells. It is realized that stem cells would be able to cure many of people's ailments and afflictions. Certainly not a cure-all but still much could be accomplished to relieve physical and emotional distress. Burn victims could have new skin developed through stem cells which could replace destroyed skin, nerve and muscle. Unfortunately, it looks like people will have to wait a while as science, though progressing, is still learning why and how stem cells function.

Stem cells are collected for research by one of two methods. Either they are extracted from the nucleus of a fertilized egg or are cloned in a lab in a culture jar. There seems considerable controversy concerning the use of the fertilized eggs for research due to the question of when does life begin. The egg is destroyed through the extraction allowing no opportunity for the egg to be permitted a life. One wonders what life the egg would have been given had science not needed it. Many specimens are received through fertilization clinics from couples who donate their fertilized eggs to science, having decided to not use them themselves. Thus, allowing scientists opportunity to receive new strains to improve their knowledge of the process by which to trigger the cells replication of the required cell definition. Science can also grow stem cells in laboratory cultures. Stem cells replicate at sufficient rates to be able to do research and gather knowledge in a lab, but at present only 13 of the 21 cell lines in the human body have been isolated.

While scientists have learned a great deal and are learning more each day the question of how to trigger the sequence to define the cell into the required individual type is still not understood. It is unknown how communication is made to select a nerve cell from a heart cell or a lung cell from a skin cell. It is unknown if something chemical or electrical is needed to stimulate the necessary sequence to define the cell. Certainly, some message is relayed from the genes to the cell nucleus enabling the cell to alter its structure. This happens continuously by our bodies, designed to maintain the requisite structure and cell count in all our multitude of parts. Some how our bodies use and maintain stem cells communicating it's individual needs to each organ, muscle and nerve.

In the near future once these questions have been answered positive and beneficial application can be made to help people with disease and other afflictions which may need a new stimulus to rejuvenate function. Methods will be found to use stem cells to repair damaged organs from disease or through physical accidents. New medicines could be tested on specific organ cells to determine the level of effectiveness and safety.

Much has been achieved into stem cell research but the investigation is hindered by religion and politics. Governments are reserved in their support of stem cell research because of personal debate over the morality of destroying an embryo which had the potential of life if given opportunity. When does life begin? That is the question which plaques science and religion. Nor do they agree on most points. As a political topic it's not good for debate. These questions will need to be answered and agreed upon before serious research can really begin. We can hope these questions will be answered soon.

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