Stem Cells: What, How and Why?Stem cells are infinitely valuable when considering theirpotential applications in the medical profession. Whilecurrent legislative restrictions have halted the development ofnew ?stem cell lines? to any agency or company that receivesany form of governmental grants, there is no question that themedical profession is standing at the brink of a new era oftechnological advancements in healthcare and research.Stem cells are valuable due to the fact that they are?non-designated,? (have no specifically assigned task in thebody, i.e. liver cells, brain cells, skin cells, etc.) and theyalso have the ability to divide indefinitely. Thus,theoretically stem cells could replace any damaged or lostspecifically designated cells within the body.However, thisis just a brief mention of the potential applications of stemcell research, which will be discussed at a later point in thisessay.
Stem cells are categorized into three genres based upontheir potential developmental capability, total to limited. (NIH PRIMER http://www.nih.gov/news/stemcell/primer.htm)Totipotent stem cells are stem cells whose potential istotal, thus totipotent.
Totipotent stem cells are derived fromembryonic tissue and fertilized ovarian eggs. This type of stem cell is of particular importance toresearchers due to its ability to ?specialize intoextraembryonic membranes and tissues, the embryo, and allpostembryonic tissues and organs? (NIH Primer). However thesetype of cells are extremely difficult to come by and only occurin certain places at certain developmental times.Pluripotent stem cells are stem cells in which theirpotential is large but not total as in Totipotent stem cells. These cells lead to the development of many cells, but cannotderive certain types of fetal cells necessary for thedevelopment of a fetus as do Totipotent stem cells.Thesecells undergo further assigment into cells that are designed toderive specifically assigned cells. Pluripotent stem cells aresomewhat easier to come by comparatively speaking to totipotentstem cells. The final genre of stem cells is that of multipotent stemcells.
These cells are more specialized than the other twocategories and thus are more restricted in their capability. Multipotent stem cells are derived from pluripotent stemcells.While pluripotent stem cells are least in theirpotential capability, they are however the easiest type of stemcell to acquire. Two methods of acquiring pluripotent stemscells have been born by two different men. The first method, developed by Dr.
Thomson involves ?theisolation of pluripotent stem cells directly from the innercell mass of human embryos at the blastocyst stage. Dr.Thomson received embryos from IVF (InVitro Fertilization)clinics.?.Dr. Thomson isolated the inner cell mass andcultured these cells producing a pluripotent stem cell line.? (NIH Primer)The second method of deriving pluripotent stem cells wasdeveloped by Dr. Gearhart.
In this more controversial method,Gearhart obtained stem cells from the fetal tissue ofterminated pregnancies. He took cells from areas of the fetusthat would soon develop into the reproductive organs of thefetus.He then isolated the inner cell mass and culturedthese cells. In was in this way that Dr. Gearhart produced apluripotent stem cell line which would be available to otherresearchers.What little we know about stem cells has already altered thecourse of medical research and new findings are sure to expandon this occurrence. The potential applications of stem cellresearch include advancements in the study of Parkinson?s,Alzheimer?s, spinal cord damage, stroke, burn victims andpatients in need of skin grafts, heart disease, diabetes andarthritis in addition to answering some of the many questionsregarding gene therapy.
So what?s the problem? Well, the NIH (National Institutesof Health) issued a ?primer? to explain what exactly are stemcells and what is the debate. While this primer was my onlysource for this essay, it did neglect to discuss certaingovernmental issues, which revolve around the issue at hand. Most likely this can be attributed to the obvious, the NIH is agovernmental agency. This is a precise example of why theissue of stem cell research is being called into question. Offcourse, ethics is at the bottom of the debate,