HOW STEM CELL RELATES TO YOU
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT STEM CELLS?
Because stem cells are the building blocks of the human body, they are transforming the way medicine is practiced. Stem cells allow researchers to develop better, safer drugs by creating human tissue to test drugs on. Stem cells are also leading to new treatments that can repair or replace damaged cells, opening up countless new possibilities for healing the body from devastating illnesses and injuries. Diseases that were once incurable could be cured, injuries that now leave permanent disabilities could heal with no lasting damage. It is widely accepted that unlocking the potential of stem cells will lead to the greatest leaps forward in the history of medicine.
WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM STEM CELL RESEARCH?
The potential benefits of stem cells are far reaching enough that everyone could one day see benefits from stem cell research. Stem cell research is perhaps most important to those who suffer from diseases and injuries that current medical science can do nothing for. Stem cell research could lead to cures for currently incurable diseases such as Huntington’s, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Stem cell research could heal injuries to organs that do not regenerate on their own, such as the spinal cord and brain. And that’s just the beginning.
WHY HAVE STEM CELLS BEEN CONTROVERSIAL?
Much of the controversy around stem cells focuses specifically on embryonic stem cells. The process of creating new stem cell lines from an embryo usually destroys that embryo. However, these human embryos are typically left over from in-vitro fertilization efforts. A typical in-vitro fertilization results in multiple candidate embryos from which only one is implanted in the mother. The remaining embryos would either be destroyed or put into banks where they typically remain until no longer viable. By using these embryos for stem cell research, they can instead go on to help countless others.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT STEM CELLS?
The most common misperceptions around stem cells center on where they do and should come from. Some have been concerned that the embryos used to create embryonic stem cells come from abortions. Embryos used to create these stem cells are actually donated by patients undergoing in-vitro fertilization. During IVF multiple embryos are created, from which only the single, most viable embryo is implanted. The rest are either destroyed outright or put into cold storage where they will most likely lose viability. Instead of simply destroying these embryos, patients can donate them to research. Just as many of these embryos would be created and destroyed without embryonic stem cell research.
A related misperception is that adult stem cells and IPS cells make embryonic stem cells unnecessary. While there are many promising advances in both adult and IPS stem cells, embryonic stem cells are much more flexible. Adult stem cells can only produce a limited subset of cells, and stem cells for some types of tissue are extremely difficult to isolate. IPS cells show much promise, but are still in their earliest stages–researchers are still experimenting with methods to effectively create them. Conversely, the creation and maintenance of self-sufficient embryonic stem cell lines is relatively well established, and once those lines are created, they can become any cell in the human body.