A Study Of Embryonic Stem Cells Biology Essay

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To establish if Stem Cell Research Technology is affected by the ethical issues, it is important to understand the meaning of what Stem Cells are really.

These are cells which are able to change into separate specialized cells. It is already known that Stem cells come from:

Early embryonic stem cells

Foetal embryonic stem cells

Umbilical cord stem cells

Blastocyst embryonic stem cells

Adult stem cells

All these different cells types are able to separate into varying cell types for example skin, muscle and bone. Adult cells grow in the body after embryonic develop mentis finished. They are found in the skeletal system, bone marrow, blood and blood vessels, brain, liver and skin and can remain there for a long time until there is an injury or disease. Adult cells are able to restore themselves or divide and therefore they can develop a many of different cell types.

Embryonic stem cells come from four or five day old human embryos. The embryos are usually formed in vitro fertilisation clinics where eggs are fertilised in a test tube and then they are set in human bodies. This mass of cells which is formed in a test tube and has not been implanted after 4 - 6 days after it was formed is called a blastocyst. The outer cell mass becomes the placenta and the inner mass becomes what is known as the stem cells. While the embryo is still in the blastocyst stage, the cells are put into a culture dish which contains a nutrient rich broth. As these cells develop, they are able to become any type of cell.

Role of Stem Cells in Medicine Today

Stem cell research helps researchers to understand how and why genes play such an important role in working out what traits and mutations can occur. Where abnormal mitotic cell division occurs such as cancer and some birth defects, there are new therapies which are able to help heal diseases but researchers have to understand how these diseases attack the human body.

Researchers are working at the moment with stem cells so they can develop new drugs. They could also carry out their research on tissue which is grown from stem cells rather than on healthy human beings.

Stem cells do not always have only one function but they can specialise if necessary into skin, hair or nail cells. They need to be instructed to specialise. Each cell that develops in the body comes from the embryonic stage, thus stem cells that are used from embryos can be grown to become any cell type. This makes stem cells powerful enough to help regrow damaged tissue.

Tissue regeneration is the most important part of stem cell research. Organ replacements depend on organs that are donated and transplanted but there are never enough organs available. It seems that stem cells could be used to grow a specific tissues or organs and do away with the need for donor organs. Stem cells that are found just below the skin are an example of how new skin tissue can be grafted onto burn victims. Healthy heart cells which could be grown under laboratory conditions may be used in the future as an alternative to donor transplants. In this way people who require hearts need not wait for a donor to suit their needs. In the same way people with type I diabetes may be given pancreatic cells to ease their diabetes. Adult stem cells that are found in bone marrow and blood have already been used to treat diseases like leukemia, sickle cell anaemia, and other immune deficiencies. Red blood cells are used to transport oxygen to white blood cells could be produced and in this way fight disease.

Involvement of Stem Cell Research

It is believed that human fertilisation may best take place in space therefore Stem cells that are grown at zero gravity in space will develop the best. This can help put South Africa in the forefront of stem cell research in today's world because of the research done at the Shuttle worth Foundation. It is believed that human fertilisation may best take place in space. The Gamete-SA project also deals with the development of animal embryos.  As the Shuttleworth Space Programmes continue, the Gamete-SA project might get to a place where human fertilisation takes place in space and if it is under zero gravity conditions, or if conception takes place on earth, the initial development of the embryos may be than able to take place in space. At this stage it is not known if this is will happen. It may help with foetal and inborn abnormalities of so many children in South Africa today.

Scientific data that uses international standards will be created from this work.  The research that is written up will be published in a scientific journal. This would certainly place the University of Stellenbosch amongst some of the world leaders of stem cell research in the world today.

The Availability of Stem Cell Research in South Africa Today.

There are short and medium term projects being researched in "The Bio Cell Division" at the University of Stellenbosch. This research was hopefully going to be available to the race horse industry for tendon regeneration. Some members of society may argue that this sort of genetic modification is unjust and cruel to the horses however the horse racing industry will not stop horse racing due to tendon problems. Stem cell research on horses will help the horses live a healthier and less painful life during and after their careers as race horses. They were also looking at trying to produce disease free Cape buffalo calves, store genetic material of wildlife and produce test tube babies where natural breeding is impossible. The Shuttleworth Foundation is involved in this research.

Professor Pepper from University of Pretoria says there is a serious need for a public stem cell bank. Many South Africans need bone marrow transplants as it is difficult getting matches from international stem cell banks due to a lack of genetic material available to provide for every racial in South Africa the diversity present in South Africa.  

Meetings and feasibility studies are being held to look at various ways of trying to raise funds for this form of healing. In order to start a Stem Cell Bank R10million is required. Over 5 years, it will take a total of R50 million to keep it working. A scientist of human genetics from UCT, Jacquie Greenberg said stem cell research was the "hot science of now and the future".  Professor Greenberg says that these are really exciting times because it is really important that government regulations permit this kind of research in South Africa and do not stop this work for the wrong reasons such as people who do not understand what the uses and benefits potentially could be.

She warns parents to be careful before placing umbilical stem cells into private facilities and suggests that they should ask informed questions before doing so. Some of the questions she suggested that parents should ask include:

1.     Is the bank accredited?

Do they give an honest evaluation of what diseases they are successfully able to treat?

What happens if there are not enough cells collected to make the transplant successful- will the bank consider that a refund may become necessary?

Who whom does the cord blood belong and what are the rights of the individual ? What happens to the cord blood if the bank happens to go out of business and it is closed down. If the owner of the cord blood is no longer able to pay for storage what happens to this blood?

Does the bank put any profit or money and/or biological resources back into stem cell research? 

Financial Costs of Stem Cell Research and Therapy

Lazaron is a company in South Africa which is working towards making stem therapy more affordable. The costs that are involved include:

Collection and processing fee: R9 000 excluding VAT

Annual storage fee: R148 excluding VAT

Lazaron is also trying to make the costs more affordable to most people by providing payments options. Cryoclinic and Netcells, also offer stem-cell storage and they charge a collection fee of between R9 000 and R15 500 a baby. Some also charge an annual storage fee of R150.

The National Stem Cell Bank aimed at receiving 10 samples a day. They quote their Extraction fees to be about R6 500 and storage fees R110 a year. Until recently South African parents have had to pay between R12 000 to R25 000 for the collection of cord blood and with transport to various banks overseas together with their annual storage fees, they have had to pay between R600 and R1 000 a year.

Legislation in South Africa

Many people are trying to make stem cell research illegal because it is believed that it kills human life because embryo cells are used.

There is an enormous medical and economic potential for stem cell research. In South Africa, the Director of Legal Affairs, he also heads up in a part-time capacity the research unit at the University of Pretoria where policy is studied. Dr D. Jordaan prepared a document which highlighted the importance of stem cells for South Africa and why it was necessary to continue Stem Cell research in this country. The Department was in agreement with this paper provided ethical guidelines were adhered to.

Ethical Issues Surrounding Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research involves destroying fertilized human cord blood to obtain embryonic stem cells. At the foetal embryonic stage the stem cells show signs of life. As the fetus now becomes a living organism, ethical issues become more of a reality. At the present time, researchers are only using foetuses where there is infertility and there is no chance of normal development. There is no destruction of human life in adult stem cell research. It is for this reason that Adult stem cell research is favoured over Embryonic or foetal research. There are two main groups in this debate-the Pro-life and the Pro-choice supporters.

In the end, this research will help those in needs so long as it is carried out without taking life to further its own ends. The quality and quantity of life should be considered. It is also suggested that only embryos that are especially created for stem cell research may be used and that cloning is banned. Researchers believe that stem cell therapy has the ability to change the treatment of human disease. There is still a lot of controversy surrounding stem cell research due to the methods that some researchers use.

Some stem cell therapies such as bone marrow transplants are used to treat leukaemia. In the future, researchers believe that diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and muscle damage, to name just a few. Stem cells are already used extensively in research, and some scientists do not see cell therapy as the main reason for research, but see the investigation of stem cells as worthwhile in itself.


There is a certain company which is operating within South Africa which is very high rates for their Stem Cell Research treatments. They use cells that should not be used into people and by doing so they put the loves of their patients at risk. These patients are the ones who are already vulnerable and they are those who are seriously ill. This was revealed by BBC TWO's Newsnight programme has uncovered. The risk factors become apparent as private companies try to turn Stem Cell Research into money making ventures.

It has been recognised that two ex ACT employees from South Africa are being looked for by the FBI for running an irregular Stem Cell business in the United States. The business was being run in South Africa. Thus again it becomes apparent that unqualified people are trying to make money.


The following patients describe in their own words how Stem Cell Research has directly affected them in a positive way.

From: Christine Bakker [christinex@telkomsa.net]

Sent: 04 April 2010 09:54 AM

To: Christine Bakker

Subject: Stemtech Testimony - Eyesight Recovered

Hi Team

Please save this testimonial in a folder and forward to your loved ones and potential customers.

Eyesight Recovered

Peggy Zumbaum, RN, BSN, who has retired and was diagnosed with detached retinas was told she would have to have surgery immediately in both eyes to save her sight. She was told that she would probably never be able to read again.

She also suffered with arthritis in her hands and back was extremely painful. Her blood pressure peaked at a high of 200/100. Due to an old knee injury she also had leg cramps at night.

Since she started on stem cell nutrition nearly all her health related issues have gone away. She says that she can read with no difficulty as the "the flashes and floaters" that she used to see have gone and the tightness in her eyes is not there any longer. She is able to work on her computer as her eyes work well and her hands and her back no longer hurt from the arthritis.

She is able to sleep well as her leg crapms no longer keep her awake at night. Her blood pressure remains at a constant 120/80 which is normal and the pain on her knee or her feet has also gone. She can't believe the energy and stamina she has now! And her hair which had gone white seems to changing colour again and going back to its original dark colour. She has lost weight despite not dieting and she believes this is all due to the stem cell nutrition that she was prescribed.

Deirdré Visser

Tells us that for 31 years she has battled with diabetes and although she believes that her organs and nerve ends are beginning to deteriorate. She says that by using StemEnhance she has regained sensation in her toes and her kidneys no longer ache. She no longer struggles with numbness in her hands and the cramping in her feet and legs have disappeared completely. She can now sleep better and have more energy and her memory and thoughts have both improved noticeably.

Carel van der Merwe

says to us that his sugar count has stabilised at 7 - 11 in the mornings and 11 - 13 in the evening. Previously it was between 24 - 28. His big toe was black with puss coming out of it. His toe is now pink again and it is healing slowly without antibiotics.

Lizzie Theron 

Tells us that she started StemEnhance medication on 25 May 2008. She was diagnosed with varicose veins and legs that ached and cramped. Due to poor circulation, her legs had gone black. She had a bad pain in her knee which would move to her hip. After taking StemEnhance for two weeks, her legs improved alot and the aching was reduced. The colour of her legs changed to a more normal colour and the pain started to go - there was no more swelling or cramps. She can now stand on her feet aking pain killers and she sleeps well. She now takes only 2 StemEnhance capsules per day and no pain killers. She says that on the 1 August 2008, her legs are 100% better and her knee and hip are healed. She wants to continue taking StemEnhance until the colour of her legs is completely normal. The main reason why she is very grateful is because she no longer suffers any pain.

Interview with medical or university staff/researchers or other involved parties

Stem cell research is aimed primarily at growing organs and tissues to replace malfunctioning ones in the body; however, cloning is also possible using stem cells. It is envisaged that in the future it will be possible to do a heart (or other organ) transplant using a donor organ grown from the patient's own tissues or stem cells. This has already occurred. Although a related science, stem cell research is distinct from cloning and genetic engineering, although often the three overlap and may mistakenly be thought to be one and the same.

1.       In some circles, mainly religious groups, there is strong opposition to stem cell research especially where the stem cells are obtained from aborted foetuses. Stem cells obtained from cord blood and stored for the use of that baby later in its life if necessary, tend to be more acceptable. There will always be opposition to this type of research because it involves the manipulation of human genetic material and the claim that researchers are "playing God".

2.       As techniques improve and computers do more of the work, prices will improve. However, it will always be an expensive procedure, out of the financial reach of most people.

3.       Stem cell research and technology takes place in vitro (literally translated meaning " in glass" - in the laboratory). Risk to the patient is minimal, other than the normal risk of surgery. The risk of the process being abused for criminal, political or ideological reasons exists.

4.       The main benefits are for patients who require organ transplants. Growing a new organ from stem cells would take about 6 months and ensure that there is a perfect tissue match and thus no rejection. Availability of organs for transplant will also become a non-issue. Cloning will allow couples who cannot have children to clone one or both parents and have children. As with atomic technology, the benefits far outweigh the risks. However, in the wrong hands, any technology such as this can and will be abused.

5.       Current stem cell research is very broad-based, but focuses mainly on medical research to produce organs and tissues for transplant. There is, however, covert

research being done on much more sinister subjects.


Alf Welgemoed

Diploma in Anatomy and Physiology CIDESCO

Recommendations for Regulating Stem Cell Research in South Africa

Whilst considering all the positives and the negatives of stem cell research, it is necessary to refer to the South African recommendations for local regulations. Donrich Jordaan, Sylvean Biotech the Director of the Legal Affairs, recently submitted an academic paper which dealt with what the legal implications of stem cell research in the world and how this research affects the Department Of Health in Pretoria. Doctor Jordaan provides recommendations for this research in South Africa.

The research that has been done on Stem-cells in South Africa has been inactive since the National Health Act of 2003. This act allowed for the provision of stem cell research in South Africa. At the time of writing researchers are waiting for the Department of Health to put their draft regulations in terms of the Act on the table so that it is possible to proceed with the research. Jordaan has written a 30 page paper in which he analyses the legalities of stem cell research and offers recommendations for the Department so the whole process can be initiated locally. Doctor Jordaan says that the Position paper that he produced was positively received by the Department of health he says that stem cell research will happen in South Africa when certain guidelines are met. He believes that South Africa has the correct expertise for stem-cell research. In South Africa it is prohibited that human embryos may be created for research.


Stem Cell Research is still in its infancy. There is still much work that will be needed to be done in order to fully observe where this medical technology will eventually go. However at this point in time, it would appear from the data collected that although there are significant ethical issues and that some companies are unscrupulous, the medical benefits far outweigh the ethical issues. Therefore if Stem Cell Research is carried out in a scientific manner by specialist research units, it would hopefully prevent many people's ethical concerns.