By Vivek Gurumoorthy
Today’s medical field is perpetually advancing. Breakthroughs come out in medical research, cures, and discoveries, as scientists find new ways to combat disease and facilitate care for patients. One of such new ideas, a concept that is capable of revolutionizing modern medical care, is the use of stem cells. Stem cells are capable of differentiating themselves into needed types of cells. This essentially helps to combat many different ailments. However, many now debate whether culturing cells kills human life. Some contend that harnessing stem cells could do wonders for sick patients, while others argue that it could kill developing life. This ethical dilemma is what makes stem cells such a controversial topic in the modern day.
Diseases and sicknesses within the human body always start at the cellular level. Old and worn out cells that do not function adequately become cancerous, infected cells that affect all those around them. This is the exact problem that stem cells aim to solve. Stem cells involve the replacement of worn or cancerous cells to improve the state of important tissues of the body. Additionally, if multiple specific cells are needed, the proliferation of many stem cells is highly possible. Millions of functional cells can be produced by this repeated cell division. The produced cells can then differentiate into the required or desired type. Doctors are given the power to pick and choose the type of cell they need a stem cell to be, specializing it with a specific function. Stem cells open the door to innovative cures for diabetes and heart disease treatments, changing the way doctors treat and look at patients.
Furthermore, there are a few different types of stem cells, including embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. All of these cells are cultured from a young blastocyst cell so that they can be used to help patients. Embryonic stem cells are those taken from actual human embryos that are not fetuses. These cells are pluripotent, meaning that they have the capacity to differentiate into any type of cell. Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can only differentiate into certain types of tissues. These are used for retaining healthy conditions for tissues and repairing damaged tissue. Recently, new ideas and discoveries have led to the study of adult stem cells used for transplants.
One potential problem with stem cells is the possibility of their rejection by a patient’s body. Adult stem cells ultimately have less potential to be rejected by the patient’s body. However, the culturing of embryonic cells is an easier process than that of adult cells. This culturing process of embryonic stem cells is what brings up the ethical debate on stem cells.
Scientists culture fertilized human egg cells and utilize their embryo for embryonic stem cells. This is what the topic of controversy in stem cell research has centered around. Some believe that culturing this cell destroys and kills a potential human life. In reality, fertilized egg cells are just parts that make up the human body and the culturing of these cells does not kill a separate human life. It only takes a small part of a donor’s body and helps patients with it. In addition, with the discovery of new IPSCs (Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells), already differentiated cells of humans can be influenced back into a near-embryonic state. From there, differentiation of these cells to different types can be applied to areas that specific patients need. Therefore, the culturing of embryonic stem cells does not endanger human life.
Thus, the medical potential of stem cells is endless. They can cure disease, repair damaged cells, and replace cancerous or infected cells. Stem cells, though thought to potentially kill human embryos, merely take parts of cells that make up the human body from donors to help others. Fully capable of revolutionizing today’s medical field, stem cells are an important tool that should be used in medical practices and will help to advance society as a whole.