Stem Cell Research: Pros and Cons

Introduction

Stem cell research is a relatively new technology that involves the development of primitive human cells into any of the 220 varieties of cells in the human body. These cells include blood cells and brain cells (The President’s Council on Bioethics). Most researchers have coined the idea of stem cell research to be beneficial in the treatment of various serious diseases. A number of diseases have however benefited from this new technology which includes Parkinson’s, heart diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases to name a few. Despite being claimed as the next big thing in the field of medicine, and forming the basis of the promising fields of human cloning and genetic engineering, stem cell research has been coupled to a controversial debate for the past 10 years (Belva, 2006).

The primary source of stem cells is the embryos or the adult tissue. Typically, stem cells or embryonic cells have a remarkable feature of developing into numerous different cells in the body. Stem cells function as a group of cells that repair damaged organs or parts of the body by further dividing numerous as long as the person or animal is alive. Another set of cells known as similar to embryonic cells is the adult stem cells. They have been used in research for a longer time compared to embryonic stem cells. This means that the human trial of these stem cells is in its advanced stage. The only problem with adult cells is that they are limited in flexibility (Marx, & Sandi, 2007).

Pros and cons

Stem cell research is controversial not because of its goals, but rather because of the means of obtaining some of the cells. However, research involving most types of stem cells, such as those derived from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood, is uncontroversial, except when its effectiveness as an alternative to embryonic stem cells is debated. The heart of the debate centers around embryonic stem cells, which makes it possible to develop medical treatments and cures, but at the same time leads to the destruction of an embryo. Cloning is such a method involving the production of embryos for research which is also surrounded by a relative similar argument as stem cell research (Vettiducci, 2007).

What are the pros?

The pros of stem cell research all center around the use of adult stem cells, neural stem cells, and cord blood stem cells. However, the key reason is the lack of any standard moral or ethical question regarding the use of stem cells. It is agreed among scientists that the use of these types of stem cells can only lead to progress and potential medical discoveries that will benefit human beings to live longer as well as have healthier lives. Other pros of stem cell research include but are not limited to minimization of pain in people who suffer from various diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, genetic defects, heart diseases, stroke among others (Belva, 2006).

There is the possibility of replacing damaged or impaired organs and prolonging their lives if researchers understand how these cells differentiate. There is a controversial debate by bioethics committees whether to create excess embryos and destroy them during research. Another common pro of stem cells is that they have much lower incidences of rejection and for the embryonic cells, they are the youngest stem cells available for use in the treatment of many diseases.

What are the cons?

The cons of stem cell research mostly refer to issues with embryonic stem cell research. People who are opposed to the use of stem cells are also opposed to using embryonic stem cells. They are numerous reasons why people are opposed to this new technology; the argument such as embryos’ potential life should be protected and their dignity respected are just but a few views in the controversial issue of stem cell research (Vettiducci, 2007).

In addition, it has also been claimed that embryos have souls that should not be destroyed or murdered. Many questions have been raised concerning the use of embryonic cells. Many people argue that by using such cells, human life is lost or a human is being murdered. To use these cells for research, the embryos must be destroyed, and some people feel that this is an ethical issue. Currently, scientists did not use embryos conceived in the womb but rather eggs were fertilized in the laboratory setting (National Research Council, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, 2001).

Weighing the pros and cons

Many pro-lifers believe that human life begins after fertilization of an ovum and spermatozoon. Killing an embryo to extract its stem cell has been coined as homicide and they are generally opposed to such research. Other people argue that an embryo has the right and potential to develop into a person. Others however disagree. They base them argue that the embryo is not yet a human being although it contains full potential as a person. Since an embryo is a sentiment, with no feeling, or ability to think and know what is happening, it can be used as a donor of stem cells. They argue that research using stem cells derived from embryos is ethical. Researchers in this upcoming field, tend to think of the likelihood of stem cells as having an unlimited number of applications in the treatment of various diseases. These disorders include Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, diabetes among others (Letter from 206 Members of the House of Representatives; Letter from 58 Senators).

Stem cell research is everyone’s concern today since we are on the edge of a breakthrough. This is because it has been speculated that, stem cells will shortly be used as the most efficient cure for various diseases such as diabetes, heart attack, blindness, spinal cord, and many other health problems globally. Further, the field of stem cell research is quite promising, and active trials of several therapies have already kicked on. It is worth knowing the difference between the pharmaceutical drug and stem cell therapy in that, the pharmaceutical drug takes 15 years in the pipeline before it is released whereas the stem cell takes about 15 days. (Joshua, 1966, p. 526).

In my opinion, people should embrace the new technology that provides an opportunity to study the growth and differentiation of individual cells into tissues. Understanding these processes could provide insight into the causes of birth defects, genetic abnormalities, among other state diseases. Stem cells could be used to produce large amounts of one cell type to test upcoming drugs for effectiveness and chemical toxicity. In addition, stem cells can be transplanted into the body to treat several diseases or repair a damaged organ in the body (Scientists Prepare To Clone a Human; Experiment Aims to Help Infertile, 2001). The normal development of the stem cells needs to be understood to correct these conditions effectively.

Challenging regulatory decisions are required on the individually created tissue-based therapies resulting from such treatment. The potential benefits may be felt after several years of research. Stem cell research has generated a lot of interest as many institutions offer grants to research based on stem cell development.

References

Belva, B. (2006). Critical perspectives on stem cell research. New York: Rosen Pub.

Joshua, L. (1966). Experimental Genetics and Human Evolution. The American Naturalist, 100, 519-531.

Letter from 206 Members of the House of Representatives; Letter from 58 Senators. National Research Council, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine (Washington: National Academies, 2001),

Scientists Prepare To Clone a Human; Experiment Aims to Help Infertile. Washington Post, 2001

The President’s Council on Bioethics, Monitoring Stem Cell Research, 2004, p. 10.

Vettiducci, LA. (2007). Perspectives on stem cells research. New York: Nova Science Publishers.