Stem Cell Therapy: The Future of Medicine?

Introduction: What Is Stem Cell Therapy?

Introduction: What Is Stem Cell Therapy?

Stem-cell therapy is a method used to treat or prevent a particular type of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, leukemia or other conditions. By definition, stem cells are cells that are able to develop into different types of cells. This is unlike your current cells that can only divide to produce cells of the same type (i.e. skin cells divide to produce more skin cells and cannot become heart cells). There are two main types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells which are taken from a 3- to 5-day-old embryo called a blastocyst and adult stem cells which are found in certain tissues (i.e. bone marrow) as well as in the umbilical cord blood.

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A Brief History of Stem-Cell Therapy

The history of adult stem cell research began in the 1950s when researchers discovered that bone marrow contained two kinds of stem cells. The first is called hematopoietic stem cells that divide to form each type of blood cells in the body. The second is called bone marrow stromal stem cells. These stem cells can repair bone, cartilage, and fat cells that support the formation of blood and fibrous connective tissue. It is a part of a small proportion of the stromal cell in the bone marrow. In 1981, scientists discovered ways to derive embryonic stem cells from early mouse embryos. This led to a discovery in 1998 that allowed scientists to derive stem cells from human embryos and grow them in the laboratory. Cells used in early research were called human embryonic stem cells that were created for reproductive procedures such as in vitro fertilization. In 2006 a new type of stem cell called an induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) was made by researchers to identify conditions and genetically reprogram some specialized adult cells to create a stem cell-like structure (Steckelberg, 2014).

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A Brief History of Stem-Cell Therapy

Mature cells found either in an adult or child, are programmed to be a particular kind (i.e. skin, muscle, nerve, etc.) and when they divide, they can only become that kind of cell. This makes it difficult to replace or repair certain kinds of cells in the body. This is where stem cells come in. Stem cells serve as an internal repair and replacement system in our body. Stem cells divide to generate replacement cells within organs such as the brain, heart, and lungs with the potential to remain a stem cell or become a new type of cell with a more specialized function (Sheen, 2015). In people where certain tissues or organs have gone awry, stem cells can be used to completely replace the organ or tissue, relieving them of their disease. A common example of this is the treatment of leukemia (a disease whereby the development of blood cells doesn’t occur correctly) through bone marrow cell therapy.

Stem cell research enables scientists to learn about the cells’ beneficial properties, discover and screen new drugs, study normal growth and identify causes of birth defects and disease. To treat disease, stem cells are programmed to become a specialized type of cells, such as heart muscle cells, blood cells or nerve cells. These specialized cells can then be implanted into a person to treat a certain disease such as congestive heart failure whereby the heart cells can’t beat strongly enough. Stem cells can also be used to grow organs such as kidneys or livers, the potential is endless. Best of all, these are your cells so there’s no chance of rejection post surgery. Note: Rejection post surgery results from the body not recognizing the cells that have been inserted into it. As a result, the immune system believes them to be invaders and kills them.

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Current Applicability of Stem Cell Therapy

Today, doctors can harvest stem cells from the blood of a newborn’s umbilical cord, reducing the controversy as previous stem cells were taken from aborted fetuses. Note: When you are born, you are given the option of having your stem cells harvested and stored for your future use. Not only can stem cells be used to treat disease, they are also being used to screen new drugs. Newly discovered medications are tested for safety on differentiated cells generated from human stem cell lines. Other kinds of cells such as cancer cell lines have also been widely used to test anti-tumor drugs. Screening new therapies on stem cells reduces the use of animal testing and also provides more optimal testing conditions as stem cells replicate the exact conditions of a living human treatment much more effective than do mice

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Arguments and Controversies against Stem Cell Therapy

Many opponents of stem cell research state that harvesting embryos for stem cells is immoral and should not be allowed under any circumstances. To them, an embryo is a human and destroying it is an act of murder. They believe that an embryo constitutes life and has the potential to develop fully into a human being. They believe it is immoral, unnatural and unethical to destroy a person's life just to save another. Furthermore, many religious groups condemn embryonic stem cell research on similar grounds. Other arguments against embryonic stem cell research cite that adult stem cells are already successfully being used and therefore, there is no need to regress back into embryonic stem cell territory.

Fears regarding unexpected outcomes and the effects of stem cell usage on the environment continue to rise. Many think that although the benefits of stem cell therapies are enormous, risks must also be considered. One concern is the passing of viruses. Recipients of stem cells may inherit viruses or other microscopic agents that can cause disease, (Murnaghan, 2015).

The Future of Stem Cell Therapy

As the famous physicist, Stephen Hawking put it, “Stem cell research is the key to developing cures for degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease from which I and many others suffer.” The current benefits of stem cell therapy are well documented, and continued research is expected for new treatments. Stem cell therapy offers hope for those suffering from serious diseases and we’ve barely scratched the surface. In the future, we could be using 3D printers to produce organs that cannot be rejected (as they are the patient’s cells). This would save thousands who die while waiting on the organ transplant list. These 3D printers would use stem cells for ink. We could eliminate the need for drug testing on animals or humans, simply testing them on stem cells until they were ready for the public. We could regenerate brain cells in those suffering from dementia and other degenerative diseases. The possibilities are endless and the future is bright.

“Stem cell research can revolutionize medicine, more than anything since antibiotics” – Ron Reagan

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Reading Comprehension Questions:

1. What are stem cells?

2. What are the two types of stem cells and where are they found?

3. What were the stem cells called that were used in early human research and what were they used for?

4. Can a skin cell divide to produce a muscle cell? Explain.

5. Provide an example of a stem cell treatment.

6. Why aren’t stem cells rejected by your body post surgery?

7. Why are stem cells used to screen new drugs? Why is this preferred method of drug testing?

8. What are the arguments against stem cell research?

9. What is your view on stem cell research? Reference different parts of this article to support your claim. Your answer needs to be detailed and as in-depth as possible. Aim for 1-2 paragraphs

Reading Comprehension Questions: Answer Key

1. What are stem cells? Stem cells are cells that are able to develop into different types of cells.

2. What are the two types of stem cells and where are they found? Embryonic stem cells are taken from a 3- to 5-day-old embryo called a blastocyst and adult stem cells that are found in certain tissues (i.e. bone marrow) as well as in the umbilical cord blood.

3. What were the stem cells called that were used in early human research and what were they used for? Early human research was done on embryonic stem cells that were created for reproductive procedures such as in vitro fertilization. 4. Can a skin cell divide to produce a muscle cell? Explain. No, mature cells are programmed to be a particular kind.

5. Provide an example of a stem cell treatment. The treatment of Leukemia (a disease where the development of blood cells doesn’t occur correctly) through bone marrow cell therapy.

6. Why aren’t stem cells rejected by your body post surgery? They aren’t rejected because they are your own cells and therefore, the body doesn’t think they are invaders to destroy.

7. Why are stem cells used to screen new drugs? Why is this preferred method of drug testing? Newly discovered medications are tested for safety on differentiated cells generated from human stem cell lines. Screening new therapies on stem cells reduces the use of animal testing and also provides more optimal testing conditions as stem cells replicate the exact conditions of a living human.

8. What are the arguments against stem cell research? Many opponents of stem cell research state that harvesting embryos for stem cells is immoral and should not be allowed under any circumstances. To them, an embryo is a human and destroying it is an act of murder. As well, recipients of stem cells may expose themselves to viruses they wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. 9. What is your view on stem cell research? Reference different parts of this article to support your claim. Your answer needs to be detailed and as in-depth as possible. Aim for 1-2 paragraphs.

REFERENCES

Bethesda, K (2013, October 18). Stem Cell Information. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from

http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics4.aspx

Mattes, B. (2011, June 8). Adult Stem Cells Provide Miraculous Treatments. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from

http://www.lifeissues.org/radio/r2011/06/06-08-11.html

Murnaghan, I. (2015, December 15). Concerns about Stem Cells. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from http://www.explorestemcells.co.uk/concernsaboutstemcells.html

Sheen, J. (2015, June 17). Stem Cell Basics. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from

http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics4.aspx

Steckelberg, J. (2014, January 8). Stem cell transplant. Retrieved January 3, 2016, from

http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/stem-cell-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art20048117?pg=2

Stem Cell Research Quotes. Retrieved January 7, 2016, from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/stem_cell_research.html