What You Should Know about Stem Cells
A topic of extended scientific and ethical debate in our society as of late has been the question of Stem Cell research. Going down this path could yield unprecedented medical leaps in treatment and prevention that medicine will be able to offer. Before I address the debate of whether or not Stem Cell research should be done, I want to first explain to my readers what stem cells are, how they come to be and what we can use them for.
We must first start with the different types of cells, I will explain them as I take you through part of the fetal development process. The first type of cell is the totipotent cell. This cell is created when a sperm fertilizes an egg. This kind of cell can become anything within the human body. After four days the totipotent cell begins to specialize by becoming a blastocyst. The blastocyst contains an outer layer of cells and an inner cell mass.
The outer layer of cells will become the placenta and other support tissues for the fetus as it develops. The inner cell mass will go on to become virtually every type of tissue within the human body. The inner cell mass cannot create a placenta. Since it cannot form a placenta, it is no longer totipotent. It now becomes pluripotent, a cell with the ability to become any number of tissues within the human body. This is the cell that scientists are interested in.
One part of Stem Cell debate is the question of when is a fetus a fetus? At what point is the potential for human life extinguished? At this stage the pluripotent cells while able to form almost every human tissue, cannot for a placenta. Therefore if you were to place the cells into another woman?s uterus a fetus would not develop.
From this point the pluripotent cells further specialize and become the cells that create heat tissue or brain tissue etc. We need to understand the complex events that occur at this stage of development. There are genes referred to as ?decision making? genes. These genes direct how and what the pluripotent cells become.
Now I will get into the possible benefits of Stem Cell research. Once we learn how the decision making genes work we can then begin to use the pluripotent cells to create the typed of tissues needed to treat patients with various types of sickness and disease. There is a bonus here as well. Birth defects and cancer arise do to abnormal cell specialization and cell division. If we can understand how to manipulate the decision making genes than we can effectively prevent birth defects and cancer before the problems ever arise!
Once we are able to create these stem cell lines a variety of possibilities will be open to us. The first is the ability to speed up our future drug testing. This benefit should please animal rights activists. If we create a line of human stem cells for new drugs to be tested on than we can assess the negative and positive effects on the stem cell tissue before the...