Stem cell research is not just a fictional thought, but a reality making waves in genetic engineering and research today. It is a major breakthrough in the field of medical science, and may just be the very tool for curing a number of currently incurable diseases and illnesses.
Presented below are a few of the benefits, that stem cell research promises to bring, but before that, let's take an overview of what stem cells exactly are.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells that are found in multicellular organism, which help in creating a fully developed organism. They are basically cells that have no specific function. This means that these cells have not yet made a decision as to which type of cells they would like to develop as. They simply make exact copies of themselves, and when they receive appropriate stimuli, they mold themselves into specific cell types. They can differentiate themselves as blood cells, liver cells, brain cells, nerve cells, muscle cells etc. Stem cells are the only known cells within the body, which have the ability to differentiate into different cells.
There are different types of stem cells like totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent and unipotent, which have specific uses in research. They are present in different parts of the body, from where they can be harvested. The different types of stem cells include embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, amniotic stem cells and adult cells induced as embryonic cells. Each of these have specific uses for research purposes.
What is Stem Cell Research?
Stem cell research involves cells harvesting these primitive cells in laboratories, and using them for developing other types of useful cells like those of the blood, brain and spinal cord cells etc. It has a lot of potential in medical science for improving the quality of life and survival rate of human beings, especially those suffering from genetic disorders, cancer, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and many other health disorders.
Pros of Stem Cell Research
- The first advantage is in the treatment of many medical problems. Stem cells are thought to hold the key that will one day help unlock the cure for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart aliments, type 1 diabetes, spinal cord injuries, congenital birth defects, etc.
- Stem cells can help in replacing and repairing the organs and tissues within the body, that are damaged due to cancer, liver cirrhosis, burns, etc.
- It has a lot of potential in transplantation surgery, where a person can be transplanted with an exact copy of his own organ like a heart, developed using stem cells.
- This research may play a major role in finding a permanent cure for cancer.
- It holds the answers related to cell determination and differentiation, which are important for further genetic studies.
There may be many more potential uses of this research that may not have been uncovered as yet. However, it is still an unknown path and scientists as well researchers are threading on it with caution especially considering its ethical facets.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding this topic, mainly fueled by two groups, one supporting and the other against embryonic stem cell research. Considering the arguments put forth by both these groups, this research certainly seems to have both advantages as well as disadvantages. However, no one can deny that it is a breakthrough in medical science.
Currently, efforts are being made to tap embryonic cells without damaging the embryos. Scientists are even on the lookout for alternative means of harvesting stem cells without using embryos. Considering the several advantages of using stem cells, if and when they are successful, a whole new avenue with infinite possibilities shall open up to human kind.