Monday, July 6, 2009

Stem Cells: The science, the benefits, the debate, and the future

While President Obama has recently lifted the ban on federal funding for research on embryonic stem cell research imposed by President Bush eight years ago, some people continue to oppose this initiative and called ethics. So while the scientific community is thrilled by the news and says the research will lead to medical breakthroughs, some communities consider research as a "slippery slope". But what exactly are the stem cells and why are they so important as to generate hot debates among all sorts of backgrounds - political, social, religious, and what not? Here is an overview of some of these details.

The science behind stem cells
What distinguishes the stem cells from other cells is their ability to turn into any other type of tissue in the body. A stem cell from bone marrow, for example, can be transformed into a neuron or nerve cells in the brain.

Types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells adult stem cells against
Overall, there are two types of stem cells in humans - embryonic stem cells and not embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells (ESC), as its name suggests, are isolated from the inner cell mass of an early embryo (4-5 days after fertilization, and consisting of 50-150 cells). On the other hand, non-embryonic stem cells, which are also known as adult stem cells found in adult tissues.
Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, as opposed to adult stem cells are multipotent. What this means is that embryonic stem cells can differentiate into one of more than 220 cell types in the adult body (can be any type of mature cells), while adult stem cells can form a limited number of cell types (closely related family of cells).

Usefulness of stem cells
The importance of stem cells is that they can be converted into any type of cells or other tissues of the body - nerve cells, tissues, pancreas, heart muscle cells, etc.
For example, stem cells from bone marrow can be used to repair the damage in your heart muscle caused during a heart attack, or to correct blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia (anemia), through transfusions of cells strains.
Stem cell therapy seems to have the potential to radically change the treatment of human diseases. Embryonic stem (ES) cell therapy have been proposed for regenerative medicine and tissue replacement after injury or illness.
But it should be noted at this point that embryonic stem cells are not yet in service. They are still in the stage where researchers are testing on animals.
On the other hand, adult stem cells have been used successfully to treat leukemia (leukemia) and bone / blood cancers using bone marrow transplants.

The controversy
The controversy behind stem cell research deals only with human embryonic stem cell research, not all research on stem cells. What is controversial is the fact that the source of research, human embryo is destroyed in the process of harvesting stem cells. Pro-life activists opposed to research, arguing that the human embryo is a human life is entitled to protection.
Another controversial issue is that embryonic stem cell technologies are a slippery slope that May lead to reproductive cloning, which in May devalue human life.
The production of adult stem cells, however, does not require the destruction of an embryo and, therefore, research on adult stem cells and therapy are not as controversial. However, adult stem cell treatment can present a risk of rejection by the body's immune system.

The current state of research on stem cells
There are some countries that offer treatments using stem cells (learn more about medical tourism), but only in such therapies of adult stem cells derived from the patient's body are used (autograft). Where possible, autografts are preferred as they eliminate the risk of rejection by the recipient's body.
It is currently promising research in the field of stem cells for treatments for a wider variety of diseases including cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, heart disease, the disease 'Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), multiple plates, lung disease, arthritis, organ failure, muscle damage, including a number of deficiencies and other conditions .

The future
The ultimate question on the minds of many is - "Why can not we just use adult stem cells instead of harvesting embryonic stem cells?
Theoretically, embryonic stem cells are considered better because they work as a clean slate and biological are the most versatile of all stem cells when adult stem cells are a form of semi-skilled and cells are not as varied that the ESC.
Although the field of adult stem cells is not clouded by controversy, the problem with adult stem cells is that they are often present in minute quantities, are difficult to isolate and purify, and their number decreases with age in May, according to a first by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
At this stage, much remains unknown about the potential of embryonic stem cells. But, going by the success in the field of animal testing in May very well, it appears that embryonic stem cells could provide solutions to many diseases in humans.
The response to the potential benefits of the ESC is in the research. To understand the benefits of embryonic stem cells or any other type of stem cells for this issue and to find possible treatments for humans, different lines of research should be pursued simultaneously.
Only research can prove whether adult stem cells are better over embryonic stem cells to treat human diseases, or vice versa. May it also shows that adult stem cells are good treatments for certain diseases, while embryonic stem cells are to heal others. Photobucket

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