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The Potential of
Embryonic Stem Cells

Anika D. Mehta

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8th Grade, Olympic

1/19/18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Embryonic
stem cell research will prolong life, improve life, and give hope for life to
millions of people.” Jim Ramstad’s quote perfectly sums up everything that
embryonic stem cell research stands for, the only part he missed is that if
people will not support and fund this field, none of that is possible. Although
stem cell research is still a developing field, many medical advances have been
made. Is the benefit to risk ratio of stem cell usage high enough to justify
continuation of embryonic stem cell research?                                                                                            Stem
cells are pluripotent cells that have the ability to grow into any type of body
tissue given the correct environment or conditions for growth. This means that
stem cells have incredible potential to treat numerous diseases including
diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and some
cancers; another very important use of stem cells is their capacity to grow
organs. In 1981, scientists discovered a way to get embryonic stem cells from
mouse embryos. Thorough studies of mouse stem cells paved the pathway to a
technique of getting stem cells from human embryos and growing them in a lab. Embryonic
stem cells are created from a precise stage of growth called the blastocyst
stage. A blastocyst is a three-to-five-day old embryo comprised of the
trophoblast, or outer layer of cells, blastocoel, or a cavity filled with
fluid, and the inner cell mass, a clump of cells on the interior.    The three main properties of stem cells,
regardless of where they have come from, are being able to divide and regenerate
themselves for long periods of time, they are unspecialized, and they can possibly
result in the discovery of specialized cell types. Stem cells proliferate, or make
exact copies of themselves numerous times, which can lead to millions of cells
if a starting amount of stem cells continue to replicate for months in a lab. Embryonic
stem cells can proliferate for a year and possibly more in a lab without
becoming a specific type of cell. Although stem cells do not have any structures
that are specific to a certain tissue that allows it to perform specific
functions, they can result in specialized cells, such as nerve cells, heart muscle
cells, or blood cells.                                                    Embryonic stem cell research has
many strong, varied opinions because of what is involved. Since this specific
research involves the destruction of embryos, there is a lot of controversy surrounding
it. Embryos used for research are remaining embryos from fertility clinics, and
scientists have consent from the donors. Some people believe that destroying a
blastocyst for means of research is equivalent to destroying an unborn child.
On the other hand, some people don’t see a blastocyst as an actual child yet,
and since the blastocyst will be used for its cells, it will never actually
become a child. People on this side, in general, believe that using stem cells
that have been donated to create medical treatments that could help save people’s
lives, is a better option than just throwing the extra embryos away. It is
impossible to fulfil both sides’ morals in embryonic stem cell research.
Although both sides have differing opinions, they want to protect human lives,
which is the fundamental idea behind both sides. The questions being asked about
embryonic stem cell research that has sparked this debate includes: Do human
embryos have rights? Is an embryo a child? Does the destruction of an embryo
mean the destruction of a child?                                                                                                                             Embryonic
stem cell research could be the key to improving and saving lives. Since embryos
are not fully-grown children yet, destroying blastocysts for their cells is not
the same as killing a child. The potential of stem cells when turned into
specific types of cells includes a resource for replacement cells and tissues
to treat diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, osteoarthritis, macular
degeneration, burns, heart disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury.                  ViaCyte,
a regenerative medicine company based in San Diego, has an ongoing Phase I-II
clinical trial for Type 1 diabetes patients. The trial consists of implanting
specialized cells derived from embryonic stem cells under the skin, hoping to
provide insulin from matured pancreatic beta cells. These transplanted cells
will be removed at certain time points and examined histologically to observe
if the graft has matured into pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin. This clinical
trial is to evaluate safety and implant viability.                                              According to the University
of San Diego, there is another Phase I clinical trial with a company called
Neuralstem Inc., using neural stem cells for spinal cord injury patients, with
the hope of helping the paralyzed patient to be able to move. The patient population
used in this clinical trial has traumatic injury of their spinal cord segments
T2-T12. The neural stem cells are transplanted into the spinal cords of these
patients. This is the first human clinical trial that evaluates the safety of
transplanting neural stem cells into the human spine.                                              The
Harvard Stem Cell Institute is trying to develop ways to make healthy heart cells
that would replace the old ones. Embryonic stem cells can be used to create new
heart cells. One main obstacle includes the fact that heart cells created by
stem cells more closely resemble an infant’s heart cells rather than an adult’s
heart cells. In order to actually work in adult hearts, the new heart cells
must mature first and then be able to survive without being dependent on the
beating environment of the heart. Although the scientific community has created
the technology to produce immature heart cells, there are heart cells that
become a part of normal heart tissue as mature heart cells few and far between.
The potential that this study has is enormous and can be built upon to give
rise to great discovery if research can continue.                                                                Do the
benefits of embryonic stem cell research out-weigh the risk of obtaining
embryos? Stem cell research is life saving and will be able to provide
countless treatments for many diseases if research can continue. Research has
already discovered treatments for diseases, and they have only scratched the
surface, imagine what scientists can do if given the opportunity to dive even
deeper.

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