Stem Cell Research

Embryonic stem cellsLots of visitors are hitting the Sciencebase site look for information on stem cell research. It is a subject I’ve written about before, both on this site and elsewhere, but I thought it might be useful, given that my alma mater is at the forefront of stem cell research in the UK, to provide a FAQ on the subject of stem cells. Just to be clear, usually when the media uses the phrase stem cells, they really mean human embryonic stem cells, but that occasionally takes print journalists over the wordcount, so it’s commonly abbreviated to stem cells, so for the sake of brevity, I’ll do the same here.

  • What are stem cells?

    Stem cells are primordial cells that can divide without limit and differentiate into the various types of cell used to build our livers, hearts, bones, brains, skin, and other organs, blood cells, nerves etc. More details.

  • Where are stem cells found?

    Pluripotent stem cells, which can form any cell type, can be harvested from human embryos that are just a few days old.

  • What do researchers do with harvested stem cells?

    Harvested pluripotent stem cells can be cultured in the laboratory to create “stem cell lines” for research and development.

  • What can be done with cultured stem cells?

    A cultured stem cell line can multiply indefinitely in the lab, so once produced researchers can use the same line without having to harvest new stem cells.

  • What might stem cells be used for?

    Cultured stem cell lines can be “engineered” to differentiate into specific cell types, which researchers are hoping can be transplanted into a patient to treat a wide range of problems, including cancer, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, birth defects and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Have researchers cured diseases with stem cells?

    Not yet, stem cell research is little more than a decade old and is very much in the experimental stages. Legal, funding, and ethical issues in the US, UK and elsewhere have slowed stem cell advances during this time to some degree.

  • Aren’t bone marrow transplants using stem cells?

    The well-known bone marrow transplant uses the blood stem cells found in bone marrow and has been used to treat a range of diseases, such as leukaemia, for four decades.

  • Do embryos have to be used to harvest stem cells?

    Not necessarily, the umbilical cord is being researched as an alternative source of stem cells that would sidestep some of the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells. There is also research into using tissue-specific stem cells from adult donors.

    A much more detailed FAQ on stem cell research can be found on the ISSCR site, while the US National Academy of Sciences has lots of info too. Additional resources may be found on the Applied Biosystems site and at the Stem Cell Companies site.

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10 thoughts on “Stem Cell Research

  1. Stem cell research has helped a number a lives and has also paved the way for new medical research as well as the way scientists interpret DNA. Unfortunately, there are still a number of ethical dilemmas that have been debated over the years. Some ethical dilemmas include: Concerns for stock market exchange, cloning, and abortions.
    However, the discovery of the human induced pluripotent stem cells has become an alternative for scientists and medical professionals to continue their research. Although induced pluripotent stem cells have “shed new light” on research, they do vary in comparison to embryonic stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are differentiated, meaning that they cannot become other cell types; whereas, embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated and have this ability. Lastly, although these two types of stem cells vary, the alternative approach for research just may be the answer that scientists have been looking for.

  2. Nations are currently racing to be the leader in stem-cell research, all the while the United States, the country in which the science originally got its start, has placed rigorous restrictions upon its funding therefore critically harming its ability to move forward and compete against the rest of the world.

    Ethical concerns have led the US to reduce its support of stem-cell research, and its opponents have used similar arguments to the pro-life movement in hopes to provoke sorrow or passionate moral rage. Though the embryos where stem cells are created are completely different from aborted fetuses. At five days old, an embryo does not even make up the size of the period at the end of a sentence and has absolutely no hints of the ability to develop a nervous system. The stem cells themselves could not develop into a baby if implanted into a uterus, but they do have the ability to grow into any human tissue.

    With this capability, stem cells have the potential to create new, healthy tissues for vital organs and prevent and cure countless deadly diseases. If the United States hopes to remain a leader in the scientific world, it needs to enhance its support for stem cell research and begin to find new and more efficient ways to transfer this science from the lab to the patient.

  3. I am currently writing an essay for my english class on stem cell research. Someone elses opinion on embryonic stem cells versus adult stem cell and i was wondering if i could interview you? I’d be a huge help! Thanks

  4. Casey Nabavi and Cellulogix Biosciences recently opened their headquarters in Montreal, Canada. With treatment centers in Zona Rio, Mexico and Istanbul, Turkey. Coming soon are treatment centers in Germany and Russia, as well as Cabo San Lucas

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