Stem Cell Research and Their Controversial Use in Society
Stem cells are responsible for the formation of fundamental tissues and organs in all living things. The laboratory uses for these primary cells are abundant, ranging from the creation of specialized cells to the possibility of curing diseases previously thought to be terminal. The ethical issues arising from the use of these cells account for the slow arrival of their amazing abilities to the general public. According to recent laboratory studies, scientists have concluded that though our knowledge of the extraordinary capabilities of these cells is limited, we can manipulate and use stem cells in ways previously thought to be science fiction. In the upcoming years, it can be reasonably predicted that the remarkable potential of stem cells will be more thoroughly revealed, arising in procedures and treatments to cure even the most rare illnesses.
In a study conducted by researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge, scientists have discovered how to take stem cells made from epithelial cells and manipulate them into human liver cells. The possible outcome of this success is the ability to treat patients with an inherited disease called “alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency.” This genetic disease of the liver inhibits the release of the enzyme alpha1-antitrypsin, ultimately leading to liver cirrhosis and lung emphysema. The only cure for this disease is liver transplant, a process that is extremely dangerous to the patient, extraordinarily expensive, and patients waiting to receive a transplant could wait painfully for years, some never receiving their new liver in time. The new procedure created by the scientists in the United Kingdom uses what they call “molecular scissors” to repair the gene mutation that causes this disease, the outcome being new cells being produced that closely resemble liver cells. The reason researchers chose to use stem cells in their studies is that in order to cure this disease, all DNA in the liver cells must be replaced and stem cells are capable of producing new tissues without the defect gene once it is repaired. Scientists would rather use embryonic stem cells in their studies because they are much more efficient and reliable; however, because of the ethical issues surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells, scientists have had to come up with semi reliable lab grown substitutes called Pluripotent stem cells. The Pluripotent stem cells displayed properties of hepatocytes, the liver cells most affected by alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, once implanted into an established cell line of mutated cells. As little as two weeks after this procedure, some of the Pluripotent stem cells had integrated into the liver of the mice and were producing human alpha1-antitrypsin. These are the cells that one day could be used in “patient specific stem cell therapies, whereby corrected stem cells are used to grow working liver cells inside the patient and this avoid the need for expensive and often risky liver transplants (Paddock 1).”
Another study conducted by researchers in Japan shows how a patient’s stem cells could be used as an alternative source for beta cells as a treatment for diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that is caused by lack of insulin in the body and affects millions of people. With no cure available, patients are forced to use outside sources, including painful injections and blood testing. Cell replacement therapy would be an ideal treatment for this disease, however, pancreatic beta cells are hard to get, and donation shortages are cause to stop these therapies. The method introduced by the Japanese researchers, led by Dr. Tomoko Kuwabara, involves differentiating stem cells into specific role for use in cell replacement therapy, creating specialized cells to target the defective pancreatic cells. The scientists transplanted neuronal stem cells from the hippocampus and olfactory bulb into...
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