Since their discovery, the ethics of human embryonic stem cells have been debated. As the ongoing controversy over human embryonic stem cells persists, we continue to look for alternative means of acquiring similar task-performing cells. Margaret Goodell was one of the first to propose extracting stem cells from other sources, most notably bone marrow. Without the ethics baggage, bone marrow derived cells seemed to put aborted fetuses out of the picture. Yet, according to Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota, bone marrow cells with the same ability as stem cells are very rare.
She estimates that perhaps only one out of ten billion marrow cells are versatile enough to have the ability to adapt into other functioning cells. Although this could be done, the process of finding these cells makes it difficult. Bone marrow “stem” cells, if you will, have no molecular marker that differentiates them from other bone marrow cells. The only way to recognize the difference between them is by a process of tests, which makes finding them excruciatingly difficult.
They are more common in younger children, however, they have been found in some donors who were in their late forties and fifties. Verrfaillie believes this to be attributed to the development stages in youth. Cell propagation and differentiation were witnessed for the first time and cells were recognized as the building blocks of life, capable of giving rise to other cells and key to understanding human development. In the early 1900’s European researchers realized that the various type of blood cells e. g. hite blood cells, red blood cells and platelets all came from a particular ‘stem cell’. However, it was not until 1963 that the first quantitative descriptions of the self-renewing activities of transplanted mouse bone marrow cells were documented by Canadian researchers Ernest A McCulloch and James E Till. Research into adult stem cells in animals and in humans has been ongoing since this time, and bone marrow transplants – actually a transplant of adult stem cells – have in fact been used in patients receiving radiation and chemotherapy since the 1950’s.
Developments in biotechnology in the 1980s and 1990s saw the introduction of techniques for targeting and altering genetic material and methods for growing human cells in the laboratory. These advances really opened the doors for human stem cell research. [http://www. ukscf. org/research/index. html] (2011, Stem Cell Research History, The UK Stem Cell Foundation) In United States, stem cell laws have a complicated history. In the U. S. funding for stem cell research was prominent in the early part of the 21st century by members of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties.
However, religious convictions of some politicians forced it to stop. There is a misconception that stem cell research is banned in United States but it’s not true. The federal government of the U. S. has never banned any research on embryonic stem cells. What has been banned relating to stem cell research is the federal funding for research and it is forever changing. (Mumtaz, 2012) October 8, 2012, [http://www. antiessays. com/free-essays/299791. html] Stem Cell Researcher Evan Snyder of the Children’s Hospital in Boston points out, “You don’t want teeth or bone in your brain.
You don’t want muscle in you liver,” (Ruse p. 57) thus supporting further research in adult cells, most notably those from the bone marrow. Umbilical Cord Blood is another alternative. A more recent discovery, umbilical cord blood (UCB), emerged in the early 1990’s, and has been a revolutionary source of blood stem cells. Blood stem cells are referred to as hematopoietic stem cells, or HSCs. Umbilical cord blood may be the best source of HSCs because of their high availability. The source of UCB is also very stable, as they are the by-product of births.
Besides its convenience, UCB can also cover a wide array of diseases as well. In addition to blood, it can also reconstitute the marrow compartment in a human being. UCBs provide much hope in fighting diseases, as an almost limitless resource. While other ways of extracting and finding stem cells or adult cells are challenging, UCB is promising, as there are around four million births around the United States alone, per year. (Ruse p. 59) Fortunately, there is also a large donor pool; many people are willing to help.
The advantages to using UCB are ongoing, as scientists explore it further. UCB is acquired after the placenta is delivered. After sterilizing the umbilical cord with Betadine and alcohol, it is secured and accessed with a standard blood collection needle, yielding approximately three ounces of blood. (Ruse p. 60) There are many potential advantages to using UCB. Over the last fifteen years, a donor pool of four million individuals has been collected. This rapid accumulation makes it easier to provide UCB samples to those needing the specific type.
An example is the New York Blood Center and its ability to provide approximately half of the requests, by using stored blood from only 16,000 umbilical cords. Another factor that makes UCB so popular is the short amount of time needed for the entire process to be completed. In approximately four months, the marrow delivery may be completed, from the start of the search initiation to the implant. If the search for the donor is completed early, the transplant may be in as little as a couple days.
The rapidity of this process draws the fine line between life and death for some. Yet, not all the facts about UCB have been discovered, and they probably will never be. Although there has been less controversy than with embryonic stem cells, UCB has not fully been accepted by all. The question that remains is whether a UCB donor has the right to reclaim his blood if needed for themselves or a relative. Another one that has been raised is if the donor is entitled to share the fees charged by collection banks for the UCB.
As UCB becomes more valuable, the issues just increasingly become more difficult to deal with. (Ruse p. 61) The third and possibly most challenging new way to acquire stem cells almost seems impossible. Scientists have found a cell within the skin that may have the potential to transform back into stem cells. (Science Daily paragraph 3) This would mean that these particular adult cells could be reversed. The method would involve fusing adult cells with stem cells; the stem cells would then reset the genetic clock of the adult cells back into their embryonic form.
Such cells could possibly even be inserted into patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or other genetic diseases with the possibility of replacing those bad cells. The unspecified skin cells could then take over, thus helping the patients simply by inserting them with cells. Biologist Chad Cowen who researched and participated in such experiments stated, “We feel this is an important achievement. We’re very excited about it. But we have many technical hurdles to overcome before we’re ready for the showroom floor, before we can wheel out the prototype model. (Science Daily paragraph 5) According to Cowen, the fusion method would adhere to the morals of most people, yet it still could be some time before the research is completed.
The process of turning back and reprogramming the genes of an adult cell may take close to ten years. Cowen also believes that if the embryonic DNA itself were to be removed and inserted, the entire procedure might take a shorter period of time than if the whole stem cell were to be implanted. (Science Daily paragraph 9) This would be yet another path for stem cell research. We will never satisfy all the ethical objections to using embryonic stem cells, but we believe that the majority of people will find this technique morally acceptable. ” (Science Daily paragraph 9) The researching process of these stem cells marks another milestone in science. In less than a century, we have discovered more than four possible ways to help cure such diseases as Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s. (Counter Balance paragraph 5) Up until now, those were considered incurable. Certainly as we go through more decades and centuries, there will be much more waiting to be discovered.
Bongso, Ariff. Stem Cells: From Bench to Bedside. Massachusetts: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2005 Hogan, Dan “Adult Cells Transformed into Stem Cells”. Science Daily. 23 August 2005. 22 July 2008. http://www.sciencedaily.com
Ralbovsky, Don “Definition of Stem Cell”. MedicineNet.We Bring Doctor’s knowledge to You. 9 December 2001. 19 July 2008. Ruse, Michael. The Stem Cell Controversy. New York: Prometheus Books, 2006. Taylor, Kevin “Stem Cells and Cloning”. Counter Balance: New Views on Complex Issues. 15 May 2006. 14 July 2008. http://www.counterbalance.net Stem Cell Research Legislation and the Related Legal Issues. Anti Essays. Retrieved October 8, 2012, from the World Wide Web: http://www.antiessays.com/free-essays/299791.html Stem Cell Research History, The UK Stem Cell Foundation, 2011 http://www.ukscf.org/research/index.html
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