Medicine today is moving quickly to make more effective cures for diseases and new techniques for treating illness. One of the new techniques being practiced today is stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy can be defined as a group of new techniques, or technologies, that rely on replacing diseased or dysfunctional cells with healthy, functioning ones. ( Langwith 23) These new techniques are being used to treat a wide variety of disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
To be able to comprehend the importance of the discovery of stem cells, it is crucial to understand the terms and definitions that go along with the topic of stem cells. A stem cell is derived from a human embryo, scientists are able to keep these stem cells alive and have them replicate after extraction. A human embryo comes into existence from the joining of one sperm and one egg, after the embryo is formed it begins to replicate itself. After about five days the embryo is called a blastocyst; it is made up of around 200 cells, some of which are pluripotent cells. Pluripotent cells are those which have the capacity to change into one of more than 200 different types of cells found in the human body.(Langwith 16)
Stem cells, simply put, are “the wild card” of cells, they can be manipulated to be almost any cell type chosen. Stem cells are cells that have not fully developed and when surrounded by a group of specialized cells such as muscle or cardiac cells, the stem cells mature into the cells it is surrounded by. Because of the stem cells ability to be turned into whatever type of cell required, it is key in the research for curing diseases or dysfunctions of the human body. One example of stem cells aiding someone’s dysfunction would be someone who has had damage to their spinal cord and has lost mobility because of it. After the stem cells are injected they begin to mature into other spinal cord cells and the spinal cord begins to improve. After X amount of time and treatment the spinal cord may be fully recovered and the life of the one who had the treatment has been returned to normal. Life changing accidents may be corrected through the help of stem cells.
The reason stem cells are key to the cure for certain diseases such as heart disease is because not all cells are able to reproduce quickly enough to combat the cell destroying disease. An example of a type of cell that can not replace itself fast enough to fight disease is one such as a heart cell, or a cardiac cell. Heart disease destroys the cells faster than they can replenish and eventually leads to the failure of that organ. Stem cells are highly versatile, they are able to be developed into a wide variety of specialized cells. Specialized cells are cells that have grown to perform a specific task such as supply insulin in the pancreas or to allow the heart to beat.
Despite these astounding positive effects, there are many who raise the issue about stem cell research being morally wrong. The reason for this research to raise moral concerns is based around the question of when life begins. Does life begin when the embryo is made? Or does human life begin as a fetus? Stem cells are obtained from human embryos, the product of fertilized eggs . Many people believe that it is wrong to use human embryos in research because these embryos are human beings, and all human beings have a right to life. (Roman Espejo 29) Although stem cells are in fact obtained from human embryos, the embryo is incapable of feeling pain or pleasure, it is devoid of a nervous system and a brain, it can not experience things occurring in the world. Many people see this issue as an issue of “the golden rule”: do to others as we wish them to do to us. In other words, when we destroy and early human embryo in research, a potential baby or person will now not exist. (Roman Espejo 32) The people who choose to sit on this side of the argument would be glad that the embryo they came from was not destroyed in embryonic research.
There is a paradox in the feeling of being glad they were not destroyed as an embryo. That paradox is that at some point during the fertilization process of your life and the formation of the primitive streak, the existence of an individual began, and because you developed from that individual, you are who you are today and any other event, such as a previously destroyed embryo that may have been used for stem cell research, are just as important to the making of you as the non-destruction of the embryo that actually developed into you. The fact of the matter is that the embryo that was previously destroyed before your fertilization is part of the reason you are the individual you are because without that one being destroyed you would have come from a different embryo. Had the embryo you were originally to come from been used in stem cell research you would have never known and would still be glad that the embryo you actually did come from was not destroyed. The issue of when life starts after conception should not even be an issue because of the fact that each person would treasure their lives the same regardless of which embryo they came from.
Although it seems as though using embryos is the only way to obtain stem cells for research, they can be gained from other methods. Stem cells can be obtained from terminated pregnancies and be put to good use instead of letting them go to waste. Another way to obtain stem cells is from adult stem cells. Adult stem cells, or somatic cells, are very different from embryonic stem cells because it is actually a stem cell from the very same person intended to use it. An adult stem cells is an undifferentiated cell found among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ, can renew itself, and can differentiate to yield the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ. (Langwith 192) The greatest advantage of adult stem cells is that it’s usually possible to use a person’s own stem cells which is the safest stem cell option for people. (Langwith 192)
The adult stem cell may help cure diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. Although adult stem cells have the potential to cure certain diseases, they are limited in number, where as the embryonic stem cells have an abundance of versatile cells. Regardless of the type of stem cells, stem cells are the future of modern science and should be pursued due to the potential benefits it may bring.Works Cited
Langwith, Jacqueline, ed. Stem Cells. Farmington hills: Greenhaven, 2007. Print.
Human embryo experimentation. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, Thomson/Gale, 2002. Print