The fields of science and technology have developed tremendously in the last few decades. One such advancement is in the form of stem cell studies and associated research. Stem cells can be defined as those non-specialized ones that have the ability to regenerate and differentiate into various types of cells. They are present in nearly all multicellular organisms, and help in the internal mechanism of repairing wear and tear tissues. Their benefits are mainly concentrated in the field of medical science, more precisely in the treatment of certain genetic diseases and chronic illnesses.
Based on the source organism, stem cells can be broadly classified into two groups, namely embryonic and non-embryonic (or adult) cells. As the names signify, the former is derived from the early stages of the developing embryo (blastocyst stage), whereas the latter is obtained from mature tissues of children and/or adults. Another recent intervention is generation of induced pluripotent stem cells, wherein regular cells (for example, skin cells) are treated to impart some characteristics of stem cells.
According to scientists, stem cells are the most promising tools in combating genetic disorders and human diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, etc., which are difficult to treat by conventional therapeutic methods. Even though all kinds of stem cells have potential uses, the embryonic type is more easy to extract, and is believed to have more advantages as compared to the adult stem cells and pluripotent induced stem cells.
Understand Cell Development: The benefits of embryonic stem cell research are to understand the growth, development, and differentiation of cells into several specialized cell types. With this aspect, it is possible to study the processes of a normal cell development. In simple terms, the causes of birth defects and genetic diseases can be studied and ruled out, thus providing an opportunity to find out the solutions for these medical conditions.
Testing Drugs and Medications: Another important benefit of stem cell studies and researches is screening drugs; whether they are curative or harmful. With the advancement in this field, it is possible to conduct clinical trials, and test drugs and medications before marketing them commercially. Thus, the effectiveness and side effects of therapeutic medicines can be studied in the absence of animal and human testers.
Potential Medical Therapies: As stem cells have the potential to differentiate into any other type, they can be developed into specialized cells of the heart, spinal cord, limbs, bones, etc. Such cells and tissues can be used in replacing the diseased and impaired systems of patients, whenever necessary.
While several benefits of this research have been claimed, there are certain ethical issues associated with the field of stem cell research. In fact, the controversy regarding the benefits and risks of this field is a global issue in the present scenario. Some people are of the opinion that killing embryos for the sake of obtaining stem cells is illegal and punishable, whereas others strongly opposed the point, stating that an embryo is not an actual human life. Another rising issue is the potential risk of cloning.
Considering the benefits of several embryonic and adult stem cell research, for curing diseases and improving quality of life, many countries have legally approved and funded researches involving this field. The United States is one of the leading countries that supports this research, even for animal cloning purposes.