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Unlimited Potential to Cure Degenerative Diseases: Stem Cell

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Introduction

Currently, in the world, there are still a number of diseases that there is not yet a known cure for. Type 1 diabetes, neurological diseases and the effects of a stroke or a heart attack are all examples of where an organ has been partly destroyed or damaged and there is not yet a way to cure this. Research in stem cells has shown that stem cells have the ability to develop and specialize into many different cell types within the body. The definition of a stem cell is an “undifferentiated cell of a multicellular organism which has the ability to give rise to more cells of the same type and at least one specialized, differentiated, cell type”. The two main sources of stem cells come from the adult body tissue, known as adult stem cells (ASC), and from embryos during the blastocyst stage, known as embryonic stem cells (ESC) Daniel Murrell, M. (2018). ASC is either multipotent or unipotent, meaning that they have a limited ability to differentiate into specialized cells. ESCs are known to be pluripotent or totipotent, which means they have the ability to differentiate into any specialized cell.

Research into stem cells goes back many years, with the first-ever successful bone marrow transplant, which involves ASC, being done in 1956. Through extensive research, in 1998, a method was discovered to allow scientists to be able to take stem cells from human embryos and grow them in a laboratory. There have been many successful stem cell transplants in the past using ASC however; there is still a lot of unknown information about the use of ESC.

The understanding and the theories already discovered through research present unlimited potential in the medical world. Although this is a very exciting prospect for scientists and anyone suffering from an incurable or degenerative disease, there are still a lot of technical issues in the way. These include ensuring that the stem cells differentiate into the desired cell types, that the stem cells don’t get rejected by the recipient, that it doesn’t cause any harm and multiple other issues. Multiple studies done on ESC have shown promising results in the ability of ESC, to repair and improve the myocardial function in models of heart disease. However, before this information can be transferred into a clinical setting, there is still a large amount of unknown or uncertain information that must be overcome through more intensive research.

There is a large amount of controversy around the use and research of ESC. The controversy around ESC has led to different countries regulating ESC research in many different ways. The most public objection to ESC comes about because ESCs are made from cells found in a blastocyst which is technically known as one of the earliest stages of human life. There is huge controversy over how scientists obtain embryonic stem cells, as they often come from the fertilized egg of a woman, left over from the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process (Mayo Clinic). The process of harvesting ESCs involves destroying the human embryo in a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. This creates a lot of controversy and debates around stem cells as many people question the moral ethics involved in the research.

Arguments For

Many scientists and researchers get very excited about the endless amount of possibilities surrounding embryonic stem cells. The main reason for excitement is due to the medical benefits in regenerative medicine and a large number of diseases that could potentially be cured using these ESCs. There are many diseases that still exist today, that currently have no cure, such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological diseases. There is now a high possibility that a cure can be found for these diseases through the use of ESCs, which will be able to repair or replace damaged tissues.

The research around embryonic stem cells is currently only being done in the labs and much more research is required before they can be brought into use within public health. However, there have been many high-profile figures, which have publicly backed the use of stem cells to cure diseases. One example is Christopher Reeve, the actor that played superman, who became quadriplegic after a horse riding accident. Christopher Reeve became an advocate of stem cell research for trying to cure spinal cord injuries. Although he did not live long enough to be able to see if stem cell research could help the paralyzed, he donated a lot of money and he lobbied for scientists to be able to continue research into ESCs to eventually be able to cure injuries such as his own.

While the Christian viewpoint states that “Life begins and new souls exist as conception”, they also hold the view that it is ok to use stem cells as long as they were not solely created for this purpose or if the embryos are going to be destroyed anyway, why not use them so as someone might benefit from their brief existence. This is called the nothing-is-lost principle, as discarded embryos will die soon anyway, so if they are used in research, something good may come from them. One viewpoint that is often seen as extremist is that of utilitarianism belief. Their viewpoint is “The greatest good of the greatest number”. This means they believe that the potential that embryonic stem cells have to help so many people outweighs the fact that human life is being destroyed. They argue that blastocytes are only a group of cells and therefore cannot be regarded as human life.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) are in charge of licensing and monitoring clinics that carry out in vitro fertilization (IVF) and human embryo research. It is also in charge of regulating the storage of embryos. Scientists can only use stem cells that have not developed longer than 14 days and they need to be able to prove that the research cannot be done by any other method. This deems the research ethical in some people’s eyes as the embryos cannot yet feel pain at this stage as the neural system has not developed. The leftover frozen embryos taken from IVF can only be used with the consent of donors.

Arguments Against

The main reason that many people disagree with ESC research is that it leads to the death of an embryo and this violates many different religious and personal beliefs and views. Many people view scientists as having the ability to ‘play God’ in that they can create and destroy life as they please and this creates large public ethical issues. A huge public figure that made his viewpoint well known was President George W. Bush as he had very strong pro-life religious views. This actually led to him banning any funding for stem cell research in 2001; this ban was later lifted by president Barrack Obama.

Another debate that is publically discussed is permitting scientists to destroy human embryos for the purpose of research. The reason there is conflict around this area is people believe it is a slippery slope and argue where the line would be drawn between allowing these procedures and allowing the killing of human fetuses to harvest tissue or allowing scientists to clone humans. There are also issues surrounding the procedure of creating life in a Petri dish, as this is also seen as another slippery slope which could lead to the cloning of humans. In 1997, a cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer was used to clone a sheep, more famously known as Dolly the sheep. This same technique is still used now for either reproductive purposes or to produce embryonic cells for research. This causes great public concern that it may be possible for a human to be cloned. Many groups deemed human cloning intolerable due to ethical concerns. Over 30 countries have completely banned any form of human cloning and 15 countries, such as the UK have banned human reproductive cloning but allow research into therapeutic cloning.

Many people oppose the use of ESC as they believe that there is a lot more potential in ASCs and umbilical cord cells that are not yet known and these should be researched in a lot more depth before moving on to using ESC. Research that has recently been done has demonstrated that ASC has the potential to turn into the equivalent of an ESC. This research means that it may not be necessary to even create or destroy an embryo to obtain ESCs. These cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells which is an alternative method of harvesting ESC. The use of these induced pluripotent stem cells and other advances in stem cell technology is slowly allowing the attitudes of people toward ESC research to change. This is due to the fact that these methods do not actually involve the killing of an embryo and therefore take away the unethical side of the procedure involved.

Although the publicity of embryonic stem cell research in the media gives hope to a lot of people with degenerative diseases, there is no actual evidence at present that these ESCs will work in the human body. ESC research may actually just give sick people a sense of false hope. This field of biotechnology has made huge promises while delivering close to nothing. Very few studies using ESCs have been done on humans and none of these have produced significant results. The media can often portray ESC research in a bias way to entice the public into supporting ESC research. There are actually many more medical advancements and treatments being done using ASC and yet, reports on the internet suggest that “ESC have the advantage over ASC in their ability to differentiate more”. Statements such as this one are being publicly displayed despite the fact that ASC transplants have been used now for many years and ESC transplants have not yet been successfully completed on a human being.

Evaluation

ESC research in the science world has unlimited potential to cure degenerative diseases. However, the potential is the key word here, as, despite the years of intensive research and the millions of pounds invested in it, there is almost no actual evidence that these cells can be used to treat diseases in the human body. There have been no successful transplants or cures for degenerative diseases using ESCs and there is still a lot of information about them that scientists do not yet know. They still need to discover how to control the development of ESCs in all different types of cells in the human body which could take a very long time.

Despite what the media may want people to believe, at present, there have been far more successful in ASC transplants. There is the argument that not enough research is being done on ASCs and that scientists should focus more on discovering new information around them rather than the ESCs. This would take away the ethical controversy that there is when using ESC as no embryos would be harmed. The biggest issue around ESC research is down to different religions and beliefs as some religions believe that destroying the embryos to use the blastocyte, is the same as killing of human life. However, while it will never please every religion, the nothing-is-lost principle is accepted by the catholic faith. This is due to the fact that the embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway might be able to help a lot of people in the world through their short existence. This only applies when the embryos are not created simply for research processes. Also, parents have the choice of donating their leftover embryos from IVF treatment, so they are consenting to the embryos being used in research when they were going to be destroyed anyway by law.

Conclusion

There is no disagreement that we as a society should do everything reasonable that we can to alleviate human suffering. However, new advancements in research and technology have given scientists the opportunity to potentially turn ASC into the equivalent of an ESC, meaning we would not have to destroy any human life. These induced pluripotent cells could be the way forward in stem cell research, as not only would they provide the same results as the ESC, it would remove the unethical segment involved in ESC research as no embryos would need to be involved in the research. This has a very high potential in the medical field to prove successful and as well as that there would be a lot less controversy from different religions and beliefs, which is currently the biggest issue.    

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Unlimited Potential to Cure Degenerative Diseases: Stem Cell. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/unlimited-potential-to-cure-degenerative-diseases-stem-cell/
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Unlimited Potential to Cure Degenerative Diseases: Stem Cell. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/unlimited-potential-to-cure-degenerative-diseases-stem-cell/> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2022].
Unlimited Potential to Cure Degenerative Diseases: Stem Cell [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Aug 30 [cited 2022 Sept 22]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/unlimited-potential-to-cure-degenerative-diseases-stem-cell/
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