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Being one of the most fascinating area of biology today, research on stem cells is leading scientists to investigate the possibility of cell-based therapies to treat various diseases, which is often referred to as regenerative medicine. However like many expanding fields of scientific enquiry, research on stem cell treatments raises scientific questions as rapidly as it generates new discoveries. In this essay, both potential advantages and disadvantages of using stem cell treatments are discussed with relevant examples, taking into consideration of the ethical issue involved.
Stem cells are types of undifferentiated cells, which are capable of self-renewal, and can be induced to become specialised cells of many types including heart muscle cells, nerve cells and skin cells. There are three types of stem cells, which are Embryonic stem (ES) cells and Adult stem cells and Induced pluripotent stem cells. ES cells are derived from 4-5 days old embryos, which are often donated from IVF clinics, and it is a hollow ball of cells (balstocytes) that made up of two components: trophoblasts, which contribute to development of placenta, and inner cell membrane that can give rise to embryo itself. Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are found in differentiated cells and some can self-renew, become specialised cells (multipotent) while other adult stem cells are only capable of giving rise to one specific cell type. Induced pluripotent stem cells are created artificially in the lab by “reprogramming” a patient’s own cells. iPSCs can be made from readily available cells including fat, skin and fibroblasts.
Since these stem cells can be stimulated to differentiate into a wide range of different, mature cell types, these cells have great potential for therapeutic benefits such as cell based regenerative therapies and drug testing. The use of these cells could radically alter the prognoses of patients with a wide range of long-term, serious medical conditions – stem cells could offer cures for some such conditions(type I diabetes mellitus; Parkinson’s disease), whilst current therapies only really address the management of symptoms.