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Stem Cells Essay

2165 words - 9 pages

In recent medical history stem cells have been used in a variety of medical procedures, including life-saving cancer treatments and the lab-based generation of body parts. With the use of actual human embryos as a source of stem cells, the possibilities for this kind of research are endless. However, the fact that this research results in the termination of the embryo has sparked a nationwide controversy which is split amongst those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice. Even though the use of human embryonic stem cells in the medical community is a questionable procedure, "the benefits far outweigh the concerns" (Miller).As the name might suggest, a stem cell is a type of cell which is the stem of any human beings' life. All stem cells have the capability of self-renewal, that is, they can continually copy themselves. From the time of conception to the sixteenth cell division an embryo is totally composed of totipotent stem cells. These totipotent stem cells have the ability to develop into any cell type of the human body, such as nerve or muscle tissue. After the sixteenth cell division in an embryo, the stem cells are pluripotent. This means that they can form into some, but not all types of cells found in the human body. The type of stem cells harvested from a human embryo and from fetuses aborted in the early stages of pregnancy are called embryonic stem cells.There are also stem cells found in a human being. These stem cells are responsible for generating new cells and tissue in a person. The stem cells in a person are peripheral stem cells; they can grow healthy cells for the part of the body that they were harvested from. For example, peripheral stem cells taken from a cancer patients' bone marrow before massive chemotherapy can be later reintroduced and grow bone marrow that is completely free from cancer cells.1 So far, stem cells have been very successful in both lab experiments and clinical trials.In lab tests involving paralyzed lab rats, the rats have actually generated new spinal tissue and in time, they regained total use of the affected limbs. Canadian and Italian scientists have been successful at transforming stem cells from mice embryos into the blood-making cells found in bone marrow, which, in theory should work with human embryonic stem cells (Miller). In other lab experiments, heart tissue grown from stem cells has been successfully transplanted into mice and other animals. With the growing shortage of donor organs, stem cells could hopefully be used to grow the necessary "˜replacement parts' (Varmus). Stem cells could also be used to treat Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and heart conditions; basically any condition that results in the unstoppable destruction of otherwise healthy tissue.The manner in which stem cells are harvested is rather simple but involves a very controversial step. To obtain stem cells from an embryo, the embryo must be destroyed. These harvested stem cells are then used in the...

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