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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Cityblog Science Club: About Stem Cells

Everything you need to know about stem cells

Author: Riya Naik:
Recently, there have been a lot of speculations about stem cells and their ethicality. The main question is: “Is it ethical to kill an embryo in order to procure stem cells where that embryo has a potential to grow into a human being?” To answer this question we first need to understand what are stem cells? What benefits do they provide us with? What are some disadvantages associated? Can they be used to treat a person who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness like cancer or an organ failure?  
So let us begin with some basics. Stem cells are pluripotent cells, that is, they have an ability to develop into an organism. A zygote, product of a sperm and an ovum fusion, is a classic example of an undifferentiated stem cell. A zygote is a single undifferentiated cell which divides itself to form an embryo. The undifferentiated cells found in an embryo are called the Embryonic stem cells. As the embryo enters its eighth week it is called as a fetus. Here, the stem cells begin to form differentiated cells. These stem cells are called the fetal stem cells. Other types of stem cells are the Adult Stem Cells. These are a rare type of stem cells. Because as the human beings grow and mature, the cells in the body become specialized and lose their pluripotency. However, there are few stem cells found in the bone marrow of an adult. Blood stem cells are an example of adult stem cells.
Being said that, let us talk about how the stem cells are used as the regenerative medicine which is a breakthrough research to help cure terminal illnesses like leukemia, organ failure or are used for a joint replacement. Of the four types of stem cells, embryonic stem cells can be regarded as the most effective in developing into an organ or a tissue. The way it is done is by  “pre specializing”(“What”) the stem cells and inject it into the tissue or the organ where a transplant is needed. When the pre-specialized stem cells meet the growth chemicals they grow into a healthy organ or a tissue. It is an effective method which replaces a transplant. However, the risks of graft rejection still remain, as the developing organ is foreign to the body. Yet there are many advantages of stem cell therapy. They have an ability to cure the irreversible Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, liver and kidney diseases. Not only transplants, stem cell research can also help the scientists to understand the patterns of human growth.
Nevertheless, with so many advantages there are many disadvantages of using the stem cells which question the ethicality of the stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells are used to study or to use for the most number of transplants. However, to do so the blastocyst is destroyed. Which means it kills an unborn life which could have grown into a human being. That is why many people believe that stem cells are unethical. Another disadvantage with stem cells is that adult stem cells are pre specialized that is they can just develop into specific organs. For example, brain stem cells can develop into brain cells they cannot develop into blood cells. And if the immune system cells are replaced by the stem cells they can identify the indigenous organs as “foreign” and can attack the organs leading to organ failure. Therefore, there are many risks involved in stem cells therapy.
Many people oppose stem cells and label the research “ unethical”. But, the technology is promising. With proper research, stem cells may have more advantages than disadvantages. Yet, the issue of ethicality remains. It is very unethical to kill an embryo for the research. However, I am very positive that the researchers will overcome this hurdle and ensure a breakthrough research which is ethical and helpful. But, as this happens we all need to be open-minded and form opinions after understanding the basics. I hope this blog helps you to understand what the stem cells are and their advantages or disadvantages and allows you to form opinions about this topic.
Please do not forget to check my page to read interesting research analysis or topics happening currently in Genetics.

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