Benefits of Stem Cell Research
Scientific research of stem cells is advancing knowledge about how human beings develop from a single cell, how cells separate into specific types of cells in the body, how normal growth occurs, and how diseased or damaged cells are replaced by healthy cells. Further, researchers in the laboratory are using stem cells to test new drugs and to determine which diseases can be treated by stem cell transplants.
Benefits of Stem Cell Research
All cells in the body are created by the division of 'core' stem cells into 'daughter' cells. Stem cell research is yielding important knowledge about how the human body grows, develops, and repairs itself. The benefits derived from the study of stem cells include an increased understanding of the molecular and genetic controls in the body and an enhanced understanding of how birth defects and other medical conditions occur.
Here are some of the specific benefits derived from research of stem cells:
•- The study of embryonic stem cells is helping scientists understand how cells differentiate to form organs and tissues. For example, embryonic stem cells can differentiate into muscle cells, heart cells, bone cells, blood cells, or brain cells.
•- Some of the most life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, are caused by abnormal cell division and differentiation. The ability to control healthy stem cell creation in the body offers new hope and exciting prospects concerning cancer treatments and therapies.
•- Stem cell researchers have already successfully directed the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into certain specific cell types in the laboratory. If this process can be reliably repeated, embryonic stem cell transplants could be used to treat diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, heart disease, vision and hearing loss, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.
•- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are currently being used in the laboratory to test the effectiveness and reliability of new drugs in the treatment of human diseases. iPSCs are adult cells that have been intentionally manipulated and programmed by stem cell researchers to behave like embryonic stem cells. Although further research is needed, scientists are hopeful that iPSCs will be good candidates for stem cell transplant therapies, thereby avoiding the ethical issues inherent in the use of embryonic stem cells. Given the overwhelming need for human tissue and organ transplants today and the difficulties of finding appropriate 'matches,' the prospect of stem cells as a source of cell and tissue replacement is welcome.
•- While researchers once thought adult stem cells (found in the bone marrow and in the surrounding blood) could only develop into blood cells (i.e., red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets), new evidence suggests that adult stem cells are more flexible than previously believed, and stem cell researchers are actively exploring the full use of adult stem cells in the treatment of various diseases and conditions.
Stem Cell Complications
To actualize the dream of using stem cells to treat or cure previously incurable diseases, researchers must be able to overcome certain potential obstacles. Cell-based treatments can encounter complications at each stage of the process - from cell differentiation, to cell transplantation, to cell engraftment. In order for stem cell transplants to succeed, stem cells must reliably differentiate into the sought-after cell type; not be rejected by the transplant recipient; generate sufficient quantities of replacement cells or tissue; implant into the surrounding tissue; avoid harming the transplant recipient (i.e. by repeated and even life-threatening infections).