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Stem cell research has evolved into the vanguard in the innovation of embryonic stem cells as means of medical advancements. Although a controversial topic it merits the attention of civilians alike and poses as a topic that requires in-depth analysis by governments in ensuring necessary rules and regulations are abide. Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in humans. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, red blood cell, or brain cell. Although it can be argued that many complications arise with the use of stem cell research and stem cell therapy to treat degenerative diseases, the benefits certainly outweigh the costs. As we search for even more applications of stem cells, new and incredible discoveries have been made. Neural stem cells, for example, have the potential to act as transplantable tissue for the repair of damage caused by such diseases as Hurler's disease, Leigh's disease, Parkinson's disease, or Alzheimer diseases.
Stem cells are defined by their ability to produce both identical daughter cells (self-renewal) and progeny with more restricted fates (commitment and differentiation). Like actors awaiting a casting call, stem cells wait for signals to tell them what to become. When stem cells receive a signal, they begin to differentiate (or gradually change into their destined cell type). The signal tells the cells to turn on certain genes and make new proteins. At this stage, the stem cell can become almost any type of cell.
Perhaps the most important potential application of human stem cells is the generation of cells and tissues that could be used for cell-based therapies. Today, donated organs and tissues are often used to replace ailing or destroyed tissue, but the need for transplantable tissues and organs far outweighs the available supply. Stem cells, directed to differentiate into specific cell types, offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases. The future of stem cells is definitely a bright one, as they retain the ability to differentiate, mimicking a versatile actor who has the ability to play many roles in different settings.
Review of Literature
A wide range of controversy surrounds the topic of stem cell research. The scientific media encompasses two opposing sides. Many of which are not in favor of the idea of stem cell research as a new innovation in sustaining the health population, while others embrace it and see the discovery as a medical breakthrough that will facet as one of the most extraordinary discoveries in medicine. The controversy emanates from controversial factors such as the technique used in the process of creating stem cells. In order for a stem cell to be generated it requires the destruction of a human embryo; argumentatively this devalues human life. Embryonic stem cells are extracted from the embryo before it can differentiate. In this phase the embryo is referred to as a blastocyte consisting of more than 100 stem cells. The use of embryos for scientific research evolved through in vitro fertilization, otherwise the embryo could have evolved into a baby. Thus becoming reason enough for the opposition of stem cell research, and presenting an onslaught of lobbyists against the idea of stem cell research as a medical breakthrough. The embryos were initially developed for the sake of science to further understand stem cell research, and were for the sole purpose of research. These embryos were destroyed before they could even form into a human being, therefore drawing it from the Catholic Church's position that it is "equivalent to infanticide". Religious and political views have become influential in the debate against stem cell research. While scientifically, it is believed to become the secret behind curing degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Because these cells can be differentiated, they can be prompted into any specific cell that is required. The cells grown can be used in replacements for injured patients or ones suffering from degenerative diseases.A large amount of these cells have been acquired from embryos that have been discarded from in vitro fertilization, due to excess embryos. Therefore, eliminating the possibility of the embryo becoming a human-being. The most controversial method arises from the process of using stem cells from fetuses that have been removed through methods of abortion.This technique has become a central argument for pro-life advocates, suggesting it opposes human ethics. Many scientists have become fed-up with politics limiting the extent to which they can perform their studies, and have chosen the resolution of simply furthering their understanding of stem cell research in different nations such as Singapore.
In June researchers revealed advances in turning back adult stem cells, and regenerating them as embryonic stem cells.Eventually these cells can become prospective in customizing cells for treatment for degenerative diseases.Science regards stem cell research as a candidate in ensuring a promising future in sustaining health, as well as a major medical breakthrough perceived to be greater than the evolution of both vaccinations, and sanitation mechanisms in preventing plagues during the early 20th century combined.
The question of whether or not stem cells are beneficial towards the biotechnology field of humans remains a dominant subject in current society. Should we use stem cells to advance medical therapies? In some cases, uncontrolled growth of stem cells has been linked to malignant tumors, instigating the opposition to research being done surrounding stem cells. Researchers generally choose fetal stem cells-obtained from a company that acquires tissue from aborted fetuses with the consent of the mothers-because such cells are unlikely to develop into anything other than cell varieties already found in the brain. If embryonic stem cells were used, there is a possibility that they might grow into bone, hair or eye tissue, causing a disastrous effect.
While important moral questions and issues regarding stem cell research are arising more frequently, such research will enable us to possibly cure diseases that are considered incurable today, namely, AIDS, Alzheimer's and cancer. Many degenerative diseases could be alleviated or healed with the help of stem cells.
A description of innovation or lack of it on this issue in recent years
There are many ways in which human stem cells can be used in basic research and in clinical research. However, there are numerous complications between the promise of stem cells and the realization of these uses, which will only be overcome by continued intensive stem cell research. Stem cell research will increase our understanding of the human body and may allow us to develop treatments for current incurable brain diseases and injuries. Many scientists encourage stem cell research for the study of these neural stem cells as potential transplantable tissue for the repair of injury (such as brain injury or stroke), as well as for the repair of degenerative processes (such as those seen in Hurler's disease).
One reason for intense interest in human cloning technology is called therapeutic cloning. This involves combining an adult human cell with a human egg from which the nucleus has been removed. The result is a human embryo which is dividing rapidly to try and become an identical twin of the cloned adult. If implanted in the womb, such cloned embryos have the potential to be born normally as cloned babies. However, there are many problems to overcome, including malformations and premature ageing as seen in animals such as Dolly the sheep.
In theory, therapeutic cloning could allow scientists to take embryonic stem cells from cloned embryo, dispose of the rest of the embryo and use the stem cells to generate new tissue which is genetically identical to the individual cloned. In practice this is a very expensive approach filled with technical challenges, as well as ethical questions and legal challenges.
An alternative is to try to create a vast tissue bank of tens of thousands of embryonic cell lines by extracting stem cells from copious amounts of different human embryos. This way, any individual who needs treatment can be closely matched with the tissue type of an existing cell line. Even if this is achieved, problems of control and cancer remain. In addition, there are many ethical considerations with any science that uses human embryos, each of which is an early developing but complete potential human being, which explains the fact that many countries have banned this work. This research also benefits the study of development events that cannot be studied directly in a human embryo, which would cause major clinical consequences such as birth defects, infertility and pregnancy loss. A more complete understanding of normal development will ultimately allow the prevention or treatment of abnormal human development.
Studies on a laboratory mouse showed that neural stem cells from adult hair follicles are able to differentiate into neurons, nerve supporting cells, cartilage/bone cells, smooth muscle cells, and pigment cells. Preliminary data indicate that equivalent stem cells reside in human hair follicles. The goal of current research is to apply neural stem cells from adult hair follicles in cell replacement therapy, including those for multiple sclerosis, bone degeneration, and Parkinson's disease. Though promising, this research is still in the animal testing stage and additional research is required before it could benefit patients.
One year ago, on November 14, 2006, orderlies at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Ore., wheeled a six-year-old child with an incurable disorder of the nervous system into an operating theatre. During the next eight hours surgeons used computers to guide a surgical procedure of which the world has never seen: injections of neural stem cells directly into the brain of a human subject.
In this phase I clinical trial, doctors affiliated with Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) are collaborating with scientists at Stem Cells, Inc., a company based in Palo Alto, Calif. Their immediate goal is limited to healing children afflicted with Batten disease, a rare but fatal neurodegenerative disorder. In the coming decades however, this work could lead to treatments for many other neurodegenerative diseases.
Recently, it has been of great focus to better understand the causes of fetal malformations in order to treat them, and to one day have the ability to produce cells in dishes, such as heart, pancreas, or brain cells, to replace genetically faulty tissue or tissue damaged as a result of disease. Primary experiments that still remain to be performed are being investigated and researched today. Although still in their early stages, scientists plan to better understand the factors required to make embryonic stem cells differentiate into the desired cell types. Additionally, the ability to increase the number of stem cells that are accepted by a patient is still unknown, as well as how to ensure that the new stem cells correctly integrate in the body to restore the proper function of the damaged tissue. Despite difficulties associated with and objections against stem cell therapy, society's quickly-expanding knowledge and technology have proven to show promising results. We as a society need an established means of communication for public awareness and engagement regarding the concerns and benefits of stem cell therapy. Canadians must learn how to involve youth in order to finely shape our future society. Every individual deserves a chance to draw their own conclusions and decide whether or not stem cell research should continue, rather than being swayed a certain way by newspaper articles.
Relevance to public health
The purpose of committing to potential stem cell research in Canada is to ease the load by discovering a cure through research, education, and support services. The objective for health research, defined by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is "to excel in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health care system". Many other Canadian organizations have a vision of optimizing global health benefits, while minimizing the social risks that come with advancing innovation in stem cell research. For example, millions of North Americans suffer from brain and spinal cord injuries, as well as countless neurodegenerative diseases. To have the ability to generate, transplant, and replace stem cells offers such a promising hope of discovering a cure in the near future, where traditionally a patient would be treated to only relieve symptoms. The CIHR plan to hold public lectures in order to encourage engagement and participation in the public.
The significant benefits are simple: stem cells have a unique property that offer the potential of developing treatments or cures for disease. Stem cell research was publicized as being a revolutionary technology that would surely bring benefits immediately; however, society has begin to wonder if the extent of the benefits actually outweigh the costs due to lack of verifiable examples of stem cell applications. While researchers in the scientific community have tried to limit making promises and guaranteeing definite success, the Canadian population should expect to see great progress and reap the rewards associated with the advancement.
Canada's researchers have paved the way in stem cell research and are considered to be at the forefront of pioneering this field of study. The Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) proposed specific guidelines, which outlined funding for human embryonic stem cell research in 2002. The following conditions qualify stem cell research to be funded: "when using pre-existing human embryonic stem cell lines; when using embryos created for reproductive purposes which are no longer required; where the persons for whom the embryos were created have given free and informed consent for their use in research; and when there were no commercial transactions involved in the creation and use of the embryos." Canada's choice to embrace the idea of stem cell research as a potential advancement in improved health is a major progress in the current state of health. It allows for new innovations and research to be a means of curing degenerative diseases, with rules and regulations established to ensure biotechnological ethics are not a morale issue in pursuing a promising future for those who suffer from degenerative diseases. CIHR has also established the Stem Cell Oversight Committee to guarantee that guidelines of the embryonic stem cell research are being followed at the national level.If beneficial outcomes outweigh any initial doubt, in the case of stem cell research the risk is worth making. Not only will it fundamentally change the face of health care for the aging population, but it will substantially decrease the amount of hospital visits, and the amount of money invested in the distribution of pharmaceutical drugs; allowing governments to invest money into other sectors of health care that are either being neglected or require more funds. Stem cell research paves a new beginning in medical advancements, it gives the aging population the peace of mind from those plagued by Alzheimer's or Parkinson's it conveys hope.
The fundamental debate regarding stem cell research extends from the opposing group's argument that stem cells for research should be extracted from an adult stem cell rather than an embryo. Thus preventing a potential fetus from being used for scientific research and eliminating the conception of embryonic stem cell research as being humane, as well as unethical. Unfortunately adult stem cells are limited in flexibility. Pro-life advocates argue that the use of stem cell research is a form of murder, and that no potential health benefit to millions is worthy nor justifiable. If the potential outcome of stem cell research grants a positive outlook on Canadian health, the "murder" of an embryo that was meant to be discarded of is justifiable without being relinquished.
There is no doubt that we are on the edge of a major stem cell breakthrough. Stem cells will one day provide effective low cost-treatment for diabetes, some forms of blindness, heart attack, stroke, spinal cord damage and many other health problems. As they are relatively primitive cells that have the ability to divide rapidly to produce more specialized cells, stem cells will increase our understanding of the human body and may allow us to develop treatments for currently incurable brain diseases and injuries. By providing the raw material for virtually every kind of human tissue, new treatments for a wide range of human diseases, including Parkinson's disease, can now be developed. However, some problematic effects have been a concern to many. In some cases, uncontrolled growth of stem cells has been linked to malignant brain tumours. However, the future of stem cell research is very promising. Stem cell technology is developing so rapidly that many stem cell scientists are unaware of important progress by others in their own or closely related fields; they are unable to keep up. The most interesting work is often unpublished, or waiting to be published.
As a relatively primitive source, stem cells have made a great testing field. Not only will it increase our understanding of degenerative diseases, it may be the answer to new treatments for a wide range of human diseases by providing raw material for virtually every kind of human tissue. Using stem cells to treat degenerative diseases is presumed to be beneficial towards medical purposes and will certainly bring our medical findings one step closer towards a future less occupied by disease. New discoveries involving stem cell therapy are arising everyday; all we have to do is wait.
Cindy Lim and Hibo Douksieh mutually wrote the introduction, relevance to public health, as well as the conclusion in a joint effort. Review of literature was written by Hibo Douksieh, and the description of innovation or lack of it on this issue in recent years was written by Cindy Lim.
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