Stem cell therapy is among the most cutting-edge of medical treatments, and scientists are currently studying stem cells for the latest discoveries in cancer, heart disease, spinal cord injuries, and many other diseases deemed incurable. But how exactly does this therapy treat such irreversible conditions? The answer lies in the ability of stem cells to specialize into any cell with a specific function in an organism.
Embryonic stem cells are cells that can be grown with a sperm and egg cell in vitro (in a culture dish in a laboratory.) These are the most versatile, as there has been little growth and differentiation.
Somatic, or adult, stem cells are stem cells found in the organs of fully grown human beings. These cells have not differentiated, but live in stem cell niches of specific organs and tissues that contain specialized cells.
Embryonic stem cells are said to be pluripotent, meaning able to specialize into any cell of the body, while somatic stem cells are generally restricted to their organ of origin. Adult stem cells can be genetically altered to become like embryonic stem cells, creating modified cells called induced pluripotent stem cells
Controversial debates surround the ethics of stem cell research. Because an embryo is a living organism and cells are extracted from blastocysts (5-day old embryos), there are questions about the rights of the embryo. Some may consider this practice as homicidal.
Stem cell research is revolutionary, scientists have found a way to control life at its most basic level. If this is possible, imagine how far medicine could go. Cancerous cells could be replaced with properly reproducing cells, and full organs or limbs could possibly be grown with further research. The possibilities are endless with stem cell therapy!
“Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An Ethical Dilemma.” EuroStemCell. EuroStemCell, 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. <http://www.eurostemcell.org/factsheet/embyronic-stem-cell-research-ethical-dilemma>.
“Stem Cell Basics [Stem Cell Information].” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. <http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/Pages/Default.aspx>.
“The Stem Cell Debate: Is It Over?” The Stem Cell Debate: Is It Over?University of Utah, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/stemcells/scissues/>.