Stem cells show potential for many different areas of health and medical research, and studying them can help us understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are caused by problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions. A stem cell is a primitive type of cell that can be coaxed into developing into most of the 220 types of cells found in the human body (e.g. blood cells, heart cells, brain cells, etc). Some researchers regard them as offering the greatest potential for the alleviation of human suffering since the development of antibiotics. Over 100 million Americans suffer from diseases that may eventually be treated more effectively with stem cells or even cured.
As science and technology continue to advance, so do ethical viewpoints surrounding these developments. The human body is a stem cell “gold mine”, providing an almost unlimited source of stem cells. There are over 4,000 registered diseases specifically linked to genetic abnormalities, as well as a host of others which are thought to have a genetic component. Yet, although stem cells are unlikely to provide fast-track miracle cures for these conditions – and are even less likely to lead to a cure for all known human disease, as certain commentators have speculated – they are unique in their potential application to a large number of these diseases. As tiny factories that have an ability to “re-stock” themselves when required and develop a wide range of specialisms, stem cells meet the technical specifications for use in gene therapy. Indeed, in many pioneering research projects, completed since the turn of the Millennium, scientists have demonstrated that stem cells can be used to replenish or rejuvenate damaged cells within the immune system of the human body and that damaged stem cells can miraculously repair themselves and their neighbors. Over the past year, adult stem cells have been used either exclusively or in combination with other treatments to achieve significant “healthcare benefits” for sufferers of the following conditions:
Brain Tumors Blindness Stroke Breast Cancer
Ovarian Cancer Immune-deficiency Rheumatoid Arthritis
Solid Tumors Systematic Lupus Multiple Sclerosis
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Anemia
Furthermore, the future application of adult stem cells to treatment therapies, where clinical trials have already indicated significant potential benefit, include:
Parkinson’s Heart Valve Replacement
Alzheimer’s Diabetes/Pancreatic Disorders
Nerve Damage Muscle Regeneration
Organ Transplantation/Growth Blood Production
“In 1998, More than 50 disease advocates and scientific societies, representing such concerns as diabetes, blindness, Parkinsons disease, glaucoma, AIDS, Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, stroke, lymphoma, infertility and cancer–as well as professional groups that focus on such issues as cell biology, aging, microbiology, ophthalmology, cardiology, pediatrics and reproductive medicine– sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to support federal funding for… [Stem cell] research.
“If researchers can decode how cells develop into tissue and organs, then they will begin to understand the mechanisms of “abnormal growth and development which, in turn, could lead to the discovery of new ways to prevent and treat birth defects and even cancer.”
Researchers might be able to develop specific cell types, tissues, organs, etc. from stem cells. The former could then be used to study the effects of new drugs. This should reduce the numbers