When many people hear the words 'embryonic stem cells', they immediately cringe, believing that developing embryos and fetuses are being destroyed for the pure purpose of scientific research. Embryonic stem cell research has been going on for decades, and has always been shrouded with controversy based on religious and moral beliefs and opinions. Understanding embryonic stem cells, how they're collected, and how they're used will perhaps provide greater understanding for individuals wishing to determine what the controversy is all about.
Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryonic tissues. In most cases, embryonic stem cells are created or procured from embryos that have been developed from eggs fertilized through in-vitro fertilization procedures, but what most people don't know or realize is that many of them are donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. It should be stated unequivocally that embryonic stem cells are not taken from eggs fertilized within a woman's body.
Embryonic tissues and cells are generally collected four to five days after fertilization occurs in cell cultures grown in laboratories. Embryonic cells grown in the laboratory settings (in culture mediums) divide and spread over the surface of petri dishes. Today, research and development of embryonic stem lines is still not perfected, and small numbers of embryonic cells must be cultured, divided and multiplied repetitively to produce adequate amounts of embryonic stem cells for research at laboratories around the world.
In many cases, this process takes up to six months or more. Stem cells that have not differentiated, or grown into specific types of cellular tissues are called pluripotent. This long process of generating an adequate number of embryonic stem cells results in batches of cells that are able to be frozen and then delivered to laboratories for future research and development.
Undifferentiated, or unspecified embryonic stem cell cultures may be gently coerced through scientific methods to form into different types of cells, including nerve cells, muscle cells, and cardiac or heart muscle cells.
Embryonic stem cell research will more than likely continue to be embroiled in moral and ethical debates regardless of the fact that researching and studying their potential for health and medical research may very well provide treatments and cures for disease processes such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, leukemia, other cancers, and forms of diabetes. Understanding stem cell development and how it relates to future potential treatments and methodologies is essential in the efforts of scientists and researchers to find cures for not only terminal illnesses, but to reverse the effects of physical injury, but also spinal cord and neural damage caused by accidents and disease processes as well as cardiac or stroke damage.
Human embryonic stem cell research offers the best use of pluripotent stem cells, or stem cells that may eventually develop into many different types of cells, found in the body, and may in the near future become a fully acceptable avenue of research and development as its importance in such treatments is discovered and discussed. Education and exploration in religious, ethical and scientific fields may help individuals reach an understanding that offers compassionate and moral use of such tissues.
Embryonic stem cell research has been used for the treatment of human diseases for many years. Since the late 1990s, the University of Wisconsin, among other stem cell research facilities in the United States and around the world, have developed techniques to isolate and grow certain types of stem cells for medical research. As of 2009, one California-based stem cell research company has received clearance by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) to begin the first human clinical trials of stem cells derived from human embryonic tissues.
The potential of embryonic, adult stem cell, placenta and umbilical cord stem cells in the treatment of human illnesses and disease processes including diabetes, kidney disease, cancers, mental disease processes such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as well as in cardiac care, and spinal cord injury treatment is unlimited.
The potential use of stem cells may help to reduce and even prevent birth defects, cancers, muscular and neural diseases such as multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and arthritis and will continue to offer doctors, scientists and researchers around the world hope for the future development of treatments and procedures that will increase quality of life, treat or cure formerly incurable disease processes and restore movement to those who have been paralyzed through injury or disease.
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