The development in the field of stem cell technology is quickly accelerating. It’s a field that incorporates the work of geneticists, cell biologists, and clinicians and provides the possible promise of treatment that actually works for a variety of infectious and non-infectious diseases. Stem cell technologies can benefit many patients and expand scientific knowledge on “untreatable” conditions. The power of stem cells may have the ability to prevent birth defects and cancers thought to occur in the differentiation process for cells. While there are many reasons to continue expanding the scientific knowledge of stem cells, disadvantages are noted.
Regardless of this, stem cells may provide the needed solutions to help patients struggling with debilitating diseases. Stem cells are known to be the body’s raw materials. They are cells where specialized functions are developed. With proper circumstances in the body or an efficient laboratory, stem cells divide to create new cells titled ‘daughter cells’. The daughter cells that came from the stem cells either mature into new stem cells in the process of self-renewal or develop into specialized cells (differentiation) and take on a more specific function, examples include brain cells, blood cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells. There are no other cells within the body holding the organic ability to make new cell types. Since diseases and issues like brain damage or bodily deficiencies or conditions such as birth defects are thought to occur due to problems in their cell’s differentiation process, being able to have a full understanding of the development that occurs in regular cells will aid scientists in treating the developmental mistakes that can happen. The practice of stem cells in treating birth defects is fairly brand-new.
These past few years, a few research teams have been cultivating stem-cell therapies to be tested on rodents bearing authentic or imitated birth defects within their brains. The director of the Ross Laboratory for Studies in Neural Birth Defects at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem, Joseph Yanai, speaks of how stem-cell therapies are optimal for treating birth defects where the system of injury is varied and inadequately interpreted. “If you use neural stem cells, they are your little doctors. They’re looking for the defect, they’re diagnosing it, and they’re differentiating into what’s needed to repair the defect. They are doing my job, in a way.” (Rice, 2009) Yanai and members of his team started with mice that had been “exposed to heroin in the womb.” (Rice, 2009) The exposed mice ended up dealing with learning deficiencies. When the mice were “placed in a tank of murky water, for instance, they take longer than normal mice to find their way back to a submerged platform.” (Rice, 2009) In these mice’s hippocampus- which is the area of the brain correlating with memory and sense of direction– “critical biochemical pathways are disrupted, and fewer new cells are produced.” according to the article.
But, all the problems with the mice were quickly repaired when the researchers inserted neural stem cells (stem cells from the brain) acquired from healthy embryonic mice into the brains of the mice that were exposed to heroin. “When swimming, the treated mice caught up with their normal counterparts, and their cellular and biochemical deficits disappeared.” (Rice, 2009) The striking results surprised the researchers, especially acknowledging the fact that only a fraction of a percent of the stem cells that had been transplanted actually remained within the brains of the mice. Not only did they generate replacements for injured cells, but the stem cells also appeared to develop signals that propel other cells to execute typical organ care and institute control of damage. Additional evidence of the benefits of stem cells relates to clinical trials done at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. A neurosurgeon, Achal Singh Achrol, and neuro-oncologist/scientist Santosh Kesari launched an innovative stem cell therapy clinical trial, “which delivers stem cells for brain recovery after traumatic brain injury (TBI) in people who have had chronic motor deficits for over a year following TBI.” (Jethani, 2018) PNI is currently recruiting patients to assess the safety and efficacy of this stem cell therapy. While this experiment is new, Dr. Achrol had used stem cell therapy to reverse the effects on patients after a stroke. Implementing stem cells to repair the damaged part of the brain actually helped disabled patients begin to move the parts they were unable to move after experiencing a stroke. There have been no other known therapies to be as effective as stem cell therapy on stroke victims, which is why the doctors are so hopeful on the success of their clinical trial. A final piece of evidence to solidify the positive outcomes of stem cell technologies revolves around Anna Kuehl who recovered from a dry macular degeneration, which is the most common form of the disease and extremely hard to care for. Around 30 years ago is when it started taking away the central vision in her left eye.
This condition forms a black area in the center of a person’s field of vision as the macula withers (the macula is a part of the retina located behind the eye). Anna was unable to drive a car or differentiate faces or see what the time on her watch was anymore. Her vision was diminishing, and she was going blind. Anna was, “… so surprised and scared that she called the USC [Gayle and Edward Roski] Eye Institute right away,” (KSM, 2019) Mark Humayun who is not only the co-director of the Roski Eye Institute but a professor of cell and neurobiology and biomedical engineering at USC, along with a team of surgeons, scientists, and engineers, utilized the power of stem cells to treat Kuehl’s eye condition. Amir Kashani, both the surgeon and the assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology, equipped a super small, “stem cell-laden patch inside Kuehl’s eye, which began to repair the damage.” (KSM, 2019) Soon enough, Anna Kuehl’s ability to see was restored. Today, Keuhl can read billboards, discern the letters on the computer keys and use a phone. She can now see the beautiful world that she had missed for so many years. A brighter future for Anna is now in her hands based on the stem cell therapies being developed. With the promises of stem cell research comes possible disadvantages. Stem cell research demonstrates issues like several compositions of research would, but nearly all resistance to stem cell research is, “…philosophical and theological, focusing on questions of whether we should be taking science this far.” (Phillips, 2019). For one, it is actually quite laborious to retrieve stem cells. To collect embryonic stem cells, “…the embryo must be grown in a culture.” (Regolie, n.d) When the stem cells have been collected, it takes them several months to grow before they are ready for usage. Furthermore, collecting adult stem cells from areas like bone marrow can be a painful process. As auspicious as stem cell treatments are, they still are hypothetical and mostly unproven, and they typically have high rejection rates in one’s body. If the stem cells from the donor are not a favorable match, and in some cases, if they are, “The body’s immune system can attack the donor stem cells. This is called rejection.” (Anzilotti, 2008).
The cells that had been transplanted can start to attack the patient’s body’s cells. With these to think about, some may doubt how promising the field of stem cell technology is- but this shouldn’t be the case. Stem cell technologies, once more knowledge about it is obtained, can really change the lives of so many who live with issues or may come into this world born with them. The thrill behind stem cell research is mostly due to the many possible and discovered medical benefits, “in areas of regenerative medicine and therapeutic cloning.”(Phillips, 2019). Stem cells supply mass amounts of potential for the search for treatments and cures for countless medical problems: including Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, etc.—can all be cared for with stem cells by taking the place of diseased or damaged tissue within the body. There is vast potential for scientists within the field to uncover information about human growth and cell development through the study of stem cells. By examining the nature in which stem cells develop into specific types of cells, scientists may be able to uncover ways to treat or prevent correlating conditions.
Some scientists may find the practice of using stem cells ethically immoral, especially if they are religious or side with the Pro-Life movements, a debate that is still controversial today. Part of studying stem cells involves using embryonic stem cells, which some may find troublesome. The present methods of acquiring embryonic stem cells involve the death of an embryo. If you are Pro-Life, with the belief that life starts at conception, the death of an embryo is wrong and unethical. Not only this, but the religious scientists may feel uncomfortable with playing the role of God, creating “make-shift” tissues to replaced damaged ones gets in the way of “God’s plan”. Though these may be up for debate, the benefits and promise of stem cell technologies show huge potential in regenerative medicine and therapeutic cloning, which can save thousands of lives, and save thousands of families so many tears and so much grief.