Developments of Stem Cell Technology
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The research of embryonic stem cell is classified under the study of biotechnology, which is one of the most recognized areas of research by the public, as well as one that have the potentials of benefited from the completion of the research7. The embryonic stem cells are the absolute base form of all cells that is within a human, they are frequently known for two of their main characteristics. One is the ability to self-renew though a long period of time while remain non-specialised, and the other main characteristic is the stem cell's ability to differentiate and give rise to any specialised cell3. Because of these characteristics, it brings hope to cure diseases that were not possible before, by replacing the damaged cell with a new one that is being derive from a stem cell. Neurodegenerative diseases are a prime example where scientists believe that stem cells are the key to treating the disease. However, the research of embryonic stem cells has always being surrounded with controversy, due to the pro-life movement around the world. This report will be mainly focused on the use of stem cell on treating neurodegenerative diseases, and a general overview of the progress in the research of stem cells. (202 Words)
The majority of the research done on embryonic stem cells is directed mostly toward medical treatment such as bone narrow transplant, regrowing a new nerve cell to heal Neurodegenerative diseases and more. The researches of stem cell started in the mid eighteen hundreds, when scientists discovered that some cells have the ability to generate into others. But the application of stem cell only start to boom from 1960's, when the human understanding on natural biological systems had increased to the point that it allowed scientists and doctors to do bone marrow transfers between two humans which resulted in curing a patient with severe combined immunodeficiency in 1968.
This is the reason that stem cell research attracted attention from the public, due to the possibilities of curing several different types of diseases or healing damages that were beyond humans' natural healing ability. Stem cells are the fundamental cells of all the different types of cells that are in a human body. It has the ability to renew itself, under the correct environment and performs obligatory asymmetric replication (see diagram 1 at appendix 1). This, combined with their ability to transform into any specific cell type that can be found in a human body, makes it possible to create new cells to replace those that were damaged by disease or treatment processes. However, the current understanding of the behaviour of stem cells is not enough for scientists and doctors to use them to completely cure a certain disease. Nevertheless, we currently have enough understanding through research, to show that stem cells do have the ability to lessen the symptoms such ailments as Alzheimer's disease.
The research into stem cells has potential of curing most of the long-term diseases known to doctors; however the cost of this research is the main reason of controversy. The reason of the controversy around stem cells is focused mainly because embryonic stem cells can only be gathered when an egg is being fertilized.
The process of gathering a sample of stem cells started by triggering a human egg that has been left in cryo for more than the legal limit, to grow into an embryo like the normal growth of a child. Afterward, the egg started to grow for five to seven days where the blastocyst started to form along with the inner cell mass. The whole blastocyst is then moved to a specially prepared culturing plate that is covered in a feeder layer, that is designed to support the growth of the stem cell, and chemicals are added to break the blastocyst to allow the inner cell mass to be exposed. From this point on it is merely waiting for the inner cell mass to grow and divide into stem cells that the researcher can use to test in a controlled environment by using different growth factors that will hopefully allow the scientist to map out the reaction of different types of proteins and the chemical environment that would decide the growth path of these stem cells (see diagram at appendix 2).
By this point, most biotechnologists require assistance from people in another field, such as chemical engineer, protein specialist and doctors to help culturing or to understand how this stem cell works. These specialist from other field of science, help scientists to understand the growth factor that is involved in the differentiation of the cells. A prime example would be the use of growth factors.
Unfortunately this is also where the controversy starts; a lot of people around the world that support pro-life organisations believe that the research of stem cells is immoral; since every embryo that is being used to extract the stem cells have the possibility of becoming a full child, thus the process of extracting the stem cells would destroy the possibility of life. They believe that the same research can be conducted through adult stem cells, or known as somatic stem cells, that can be isolated from bone narrow, or any other cells that have the ability to self repair, without the need of creating a full embryo. While it may be possible to do so, the concentrations of somatic stem cells are extremely hard to isolate and researchers are currently unable to grow them in cultures for further study. However, most scientists believe that while each embryo has the possibility of developing into a child, the long period of cryo that is used to store the egg, is damaging it, to a point that the death rate of the infant will be higher, along with the fact that these cells were originally scheduled to be destroyed, thus it does not make much difference. Therefore, until either the somatic stem cells can be cultured and proven to be as potent as embryonic stem cells, or the latest induced pluripotent stem cells that are created by "reprogramming" the adult stem cell back into the pluripotent stem cell stage of development. Scientists are stuck on using embryonic stem cells for the majority of the study. (792)
Application Case study
The advancement in the field of biotechnology's research into stem cells has already started to show results. In the past, diseases such as Alzheimer's, which are diseases that cause the degradation of neurons on nerve cells, which were not treatable by doctors before. The most that doctors were able to do was to relieve the pain caused by the disease, they were not able to locate the source of the disease, or how they affected patients.
However, since the development of stem cell technology, scientists have regain hope of finding cure or treatment process that can permanent treat these diseases. Using the same system that was originally designed to house the stem cells, they were able to isolate the infected neuron samples that were affected by the diseases, and therefore, were able to devise a treatment or cure for the diseases as they now have a sample with which they can work.
Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common neuron degradation diseases seen in the world. In America alone, there are at least 5.3 million people that have this disease. Alzheimer's disease attacks the nerves and neurons that are in the brain over a long period of time, which slowly causes memory loss, problem solving skills, thinking, to the point that the brain can no longer function properly, leading to death. Alzheimer's disease currently has no cure, as the rate that the human body regenerates the brain cells are much slower than the rate of infection. Therefore, theoretically it will be possible to cure Alzheimer's if all infected nerve cells could be removed, and replaced with new nerve cells that were derived from the adult stem cell of the patient. This same application can also be used on other diseases such as Parkinson's disease or sport injury that normally requires years of recovery.
Based on a published journal in 2009, scientists were able to use bone marrow derived the mesenchymal stem cell to relieve symptoms of Alzheimer's on a mice model that have been purposely induced. According to the research journal, when a patient (or mice in their case) that is presented with the disease, the concentration of amyloid-b (Ab) peptides in the form of amyloid plaques in the brain parenchyma increases, which causes neural loss to the patient. Therefore, in a direct treatment the research team injected bone-marrow-derived-mesenchymal stem cells into the brain of the induced mice, the result showed that there is a diminution of amyloid-b by the reactivation of microglia that were re-stimulated by the injection of the stem cells. Thus the research team arrived at the conclusion that BMMSCs can promote reduction of the amyloid-b through the microglial activation in the induced Alzheimer's brain, suggesting a potential therapeutic agent against Alzheimer's disease. (453) however, in the journal the research team fail to considered the other cause of Alzheimer the neruofibrillary tangles
In conclusion, it is clear that the development of stem cells is one field of biotechnology that is emerging quickly as the understanding of natural biological systems increase, along with the fact that the diversity of biotechnology is potentially limitless in the field of medical research. For example, during the process of creating a suitable environment for the embryonic stem cells to grow, researchers have accidentally created a solution that can keep donated organs for longer periods of time, allowing a higher chance of success to the transplant surgery after a long period of travel. In the future, once more is understood about stem cells, the whole technology may be advanced enough to reconstruct an entire limb. There remains much controversy around this field, due to the researchers' ethical practices, notably, obtaining new stem cells.
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