For many years there have been diseases that we could not find a cure for and unfortunately take the lives of many people all around the world. In upcoming research, scientists have been able to find cells that can become specific cells that are needed for certain diseases and injuries such as cells lost in a major injury to the brain, these cells are known as Stem Cells. These cells have many wonderful expectations but are controversial due to where they are derived from and also due to the subjects used to experiment with these cells.
In medicine, there are many diseases and injuries that a doctor and a nurse have to face and in some cases, the person that they are treating may not make it out from the hospital. So medical research is done to help lower the number of people sick or find ways to treat injuries better. Much of that research ends in medicine that is given to extend the life of a person that has an illness and does not cure them. Almost the same can be said about injuries because in some injuries the damage is too hard to reverse that the person may never return to be the same. Now, researchers have found a new treatment that may help both, injuries and diseases but why have many of us not heard of it? First off, the research is on stem cells which are cells that are in our bodies not contributing to anything but once they are extracted can be manipulated to become different cells. So, what are the benefits that this treatment may offer? Why is it so controversial? How come we are not using stem cells to help people if they can be manipulated?
Stem cells are cells that do not have a specific function for the body, they are just there with no specific purpose. Until some years back, scientists have found a function for these cells. In Medical News Today, Yvette Brazier helps us understand stem cells better. For example, she talks about where we can find these cells and their uses, and she mentions 3 ways of obtaining them which are through embryos, “connective tissue or stroma that surrounds the body’s organs and other tissues” (Brazier, 2018, para. 4-6), and by creating them in the lab to simulate an embryo stem cell. The cells that are obtained through embryos are said to be removed after the egg is fertilized and becomes a “blastocyst or ball of cells” (Brazier, 2018, para. 4) which occurs in less than a week. These embryonic stem cells are easier to manipulate to become any other cell. Next, are the cells that come from organ and connective tissue but the difference between them and the embryonic stem cells is that they can be removed from any person, but it is limited to the forms that the stem cell can become. Lastly, are the cells that are created in a lab which are called, “Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS)” (Brazier, 2018, para. 6). These type of stem cells can take the form of the two other stem cells mentioned above and also be manipulated the same way as those are. To create these in the lab, scientists need to take samples of the other types of stem cells and keep them in a “controlled culture where they will divide and reproduce but not specialize further” (Brazier, 2018, para. 6). Some of the uses for all the mentioned stem cells are that they may treat Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, certain cancers, etc. Harvard Medical School a very well-known school made some discoveries through their research that they believe they can take a type of stem cell to help a person with heart problems and using the stem cell iPS “Then they might be able to transform those iPS cells into heart muscle cells and inject them into a vein, which would carry them through the bloodstream to the heart, where they are needed.” (Harvard Medical School, 2015, para. 9). Stem cells sound promising but the reason they are so controversial is because of the type of stem cell that is derived from an embryo. Botes and Alessandrini wrote in a scientific journal titled “Legal implications of translational promises of unproven stem cell therapy” that when an embryo is formed there are two-layer of cells an outer and an inner, “The outer layer develops into the placenta, while the inner cell mass develops into the human body/fetus. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are derived from the inner cell mass and are referred to as pluripotent stem cells.” (Botes & Alessandrini, 2015, para. 2). Another, problem for stem cells is that they are usually tested on animals, and people have a problem with that as mentioned by Yvette Brazier that, “Stem cell research often involves inserting human cells into animals, such as mice or rats. Some people argue that this could create an organism that is part human.” (Brazier, 2018, para. 19). Overall, this is stem cell research with its benefits and its negatives but should we ban stem cell research until they come up with a better way to obtain them and to study them?
The pros for stem cell research are that scientists can do so much with these cells because they can be transformed into a specific cell. This can be a big breakthrough for science since most diseases are due to cells dying or cells becoming cancerous, and with stem cells, they can make a stem cell become the cells that died or become the cells that can kill cancerous cells. University of Nebraska Medical Center gives the pros for each of these cells, first are the cells removed from organs or connective tissue which can be used “as therapy for blood disorders such as leukemia and lymphoma, amongst many others.” (University of Nebraska Medical Center, 2018, para. 6). Embryonic stem cells have a bit of more usage, some “Diseases that are being targeted with ESC therapy include diabetes, spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, heart disease, and vision/hearing loss.” (University of Nebraska Medical Center, 2018, para. 7). Lastly, stem cells that are created in a lab to either become either of the cells above can be used “to generate the cells in need.” (University of Nebraska Medical Center, 2018, para. 8). All these embryonic stem cells and human-derived stem cells can become specific cells, then laboratory stem cells can also become specific cells if created like the other two.
The cons of stem cell research are like I have mentioned before that they are tested on animals and obtained from embryonic stem cells. This is the reason that in the US it is not necessarily embraced but “several FDA approved trials to treat patients with age-related macular degeneration with retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) derived from allogeneic human embryotic stem cells (ESCs).” (Nature Publishing Group, 2017, para. 1). Yet, this procedure has to undergo a lot of clearing before it can be allowed to be performed to people. Going back to the idea that is being disputed about using rats or animals to perform tests is that it raises many concerns. The reason why is because humans and rats are not alike, they may have some similarities but people do not agree that a person’s stem cells are to be inserted into a rat. Also, the last con mentioned is about embryotic cells and they have a lot of controversy due to the nature of where they come from: an embryo. For people that are about human rights a blastocyst is already considered life, and taking stem cells from life can be a no-no to them because they are basically testing on what could have become a fetus eventually even if it was donated.
In conclusion, stem cell research as we stated has a potential in becoming a very important medical resource to help treat and cure disease, but it has a long way to go from where it stands now to be developed. As critical thinkers, we need to make sure to always look at both sides of the story, because we might favor a topic due to the positive outcomes but be in the dark when it comes to the negative sides of it. When we make a decision it has to come from weighing the pros and cons to decide if this will do us more good rather than more harm.
Alessandrini, M. & Botes, W. M. (2015). Source: South African Journal of Bioethics & Law. Legal implications of translational promises of unproven stem cell therapy. South Africa. Retrieved from: http://web.a.ebscohost.com.westcoastuniversity.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=623ed55e-1223-4400-a780-1124f45b93af%40sdc-v-sessmgr01
Brazier, Y. (2018). Medical News Today. What are stem cells, and what do they do? Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323343.php
Harvard Medical School. (2012). Harvard Health Letter. Update: Stem cell benefits getting closer. Retrieved from: http://web.a.ebscohost.com.westcoastuniversity.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=623ed55e-1223-4400-a780-1124f45b93af%40sdc-v-sessmgr01
Nature Publishing Group. (2017). Nature Cell Biology; London. Of stem cells and ethics. Retrieved from: https://search-proquest-com.westcoastuniversity.idm.oclc.org/health/docview/1978702615/fulltextPDF/231DFA42B1154028PQ/1?accountid=162765
University of Nebraska Medical Center. (2018). Importance of Stem Cells. Retrieved from: https://www.unmc.edu/stemcells/educational-resources/importance.html