Stem Cell Research–the Ethics–Implications for Your Health
The Ethics of Stem Cell Research
Stem cells are basically primitive cells that have the ability to develop into specific cells and multiply. These cells are the source of all the tissues in the body and are therefore able to transform into any type of cell needed as components of an organism. Whatever growth or development we experience, from conception to childhood to adulthood is the result of the development of stem cells.
The source of stem cells
A stem cell is created when an egg cell is fertilized by a sperm cell. This fertilized egg, called a zygote. At first the stem cell is unspecialized, meaning it is not yet a cell that can be distinguished as cell that forms the muscles, bones or skin. It can later develop to become different cells like blood cells and bone cells.
What makes stem cells special is that while every Ronas Stem cell has the ability to divide and replicate themselves, only the stem cell can create another cell type. The best source of these cells can be extracted from the tissues of a human fetus, which is today the source of controversy. When stem cells are harvested, the embryo will be destroyed and is therefore considered by many as not a moral act.
One source of embryos for stem cells is the surplus from in vitro fertilization procedures. Many couples who have not been successful at conceiving donate a number of egg cells to a clinic to have them preserved for fertilization at a future time. Only one of these fertilized egg cells may be implanted in the woman’s uterus. If everything goes right, the zygote will develop into a baby.
The rest of the embryos that have not been used may be a source of stem cells. Since they are cells made from donors who no longer need them, scientists conclude that they are no longer needed and could mean a lot of waste if thrown away.
Another source that have been in use for the past 40 years are adult stem cells, taken from the patient’s body. Referred to as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), these cells have been used to treat medical problems such as lymphoma, leukemia and some blood disorders that are inherited. It also has the potential to treat diabetes and kidney cancer, except that studies made about the latter two are limited and unreliable.
Praises and arguments
Stem cells hold a remarkable promise in terms of healing those who have life-threatening diseases and disabilities. In theory, stem cells can produce virtually any cell or tissue type there is in a human body to produce an organ or a patch of skin to replace that which is defective or diseased.
In the case of adult stem cells, the question of compatibility is done away with, since the cells are developed from the recipient’s body. What he gets is genetically compatible with what he already has.
This potential could change the way we live, improve our lives and maybe even prolong it. Stem cells will extend the limit to human life that nature imposed.
On the other hand, there are some nagging questions that face stem cell researchers and advocates, both medically and philosophically. Stem cells that could be controlled to develop into a specific body part have yet to be isolated and produced.
There is also a question about the genetic compatibility issues that stem cells raise. A recipient’s body, for example, may reject the organ or body part that was grown out of a donor’s stem cell. Stem cells, especially those that come from embryos are still in an animal testing stage and may still take some years before they are declared fit for use with humans.