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Stem Cell Research Essay

1739 words - 7 pages

Since its burgeoning in the second half of the 20th century, the field of stem cell research has grown enormously and garnered a lot of support as well as a multitude of critics - both for its promising treatment potential and its controversial methods of experimentation. Stem cells are unspecialized, undifferentiated cells that may give rise to the various cells of the human body, including cardiac, nerve, blood, and even additional stem cells. Humans are comprised of approximately 75 trillion cells, of which there are over 220 different types, and stem cells are so significant in everyday bodily function because they not only give rise to specizlized cells but are essential in repairing ...view middle of the document...

Embryonic stem cells are derived from in vitro (Latin for “in glass”) fertilization, or IVF. This process, utilized by couples having difficulty conceiving a child, allows doctors to acquire eggs from a woman’s ovaries and combine them with male sperm outside the reproductive system to produce a fertilized zygote. This procedure usually occurs in a petri dish or test tube filled with fluid to support nutrition and growth and produces numerous blastocysts. In the first days of development, zygotes and the cells they mitotically divide into are totipotent, meaning they have the ability to differentiate into any cell of the body. As the embryo continues its series of mitotic divisions, cells become increasingly specialized and form a hollow cluster with a clump of cells inside and a large fluid-filled cavity, thus known as a blastocyst. This clump of cells inside are stem cells and are pluripotent; that is, they have the ability to differentiate into almost any cell in the human body – all but those that surround them in the blastocyst. In IVF, doctors transfer the healthiest blastocysts back into the woman’s uterus in the hope that it will implant itself and initiate development. The surplus of blastocysts left over are often the ones designated for research and experiment. Embryonic stem cells, first discovered in 1998, show more potential in future medical solutions and testing, and they are much easier to locate and extract than adult stem cells. Additionally, embryonic stem cells can reproduce infinitely when cultured in a line and can differentiate into nearly any variety of cell. However, if they were to be transfused into a recipient for a transplant treatment, the embryonic stem cells would be genetically different from those of the recipient. The possibility of graft versus host disease could become a very likely possibility if the recipient’s immune system were to reject the cells, constituting a failed transplant.
Adult stem cells naturally produce only a few varieties of specialized cells and are much rarer than embryonic stem cells. Being more limited in their level of self-renewal and differentiation, their differentation is typically restricted to those in the organs in which they originated, which is continually under investigation, as is the question of the source of these cells in mature tissues (the origin of embryonic stem cells, conversely, is clearly defined). Major types of adult stem cells that have been discovered include hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to blood cells; mesenchymal stem cells, which are part of the production of bone, cartilage, and fat cells; neural stem cells with the ability to differentiate into several types of brain cells, including neurons; epithelial stem cells located in the digestive tract; and skin stem cells. Once harvested, adult stem cells have a very limited proliferation and life span, which raises queries regarding the the effectiveness and duration of a successful,...

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