Stem cells are unique types of cells that are distinct from all other types of cells that are not yet specialized and have the ability to renew, differentiate and specialize to any kind of cells (Australian stem cell centre, 2005; Weissman, 2000). Stem cell therapy is a relatively new field; bone marrow transplants are the first clinical applications of stem cell since the last 30 years (Grace, 1998). In 1961 the existence of clonogenic bone marrow precursors which produce multilineage hematopoietic colonies which were located inside the spleen were demonstrated, they were a kind of cells which were able to give rise more spleen cells (Weissman, 2000). The aim of this essay was to give a brief discussion about the safety of stem cell treatment through addressing common benefits and risks associated with this kind of treatment.
Talking about stem cell transplantation, inadequate viability and lack of control of stem-cell fate have been argued (Ronaghi et al, 2010), the transplanted cells mostly die within few days after the therapy because of acute inflammation or immune responses (Li et al, 2012). A common problem in most of the transplantation treated patients is that their immune system may reject the transplant tissue or cells as patients who received it consider it to be a foreign body and attack them (Australian stem cell centre, 2005). An example for this could be seen in patients who undergo haploidentical hematopoitic stem-cell transplantation. Although this procedure is beneficial for nearly half of patients who need transplantation, since they cannot find HLA-matched donors, but there are still risks of using this technique.
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Possible examples for difficulties related to haploidentical transplantation therapy are the fact that, besides challenging in the technique, patients might suffer from post-transplant GVHD (graft versus host disease). However, immunosuppressive and T cell depletive agents have been used along with the transplantation therapy in order to resolve the on-going immune system induced problems. But still this might be the source of other complications in patients, such as delayed immune response and increasing the rate of infectious diseases in them (Nassar, 2012). In addition, another possible solution for these issues could be gained by using of endogenous neural stem cells which are very appealing for central nervous system tissue regeneration. Neural stem cells are located in the adult mammalian brain and spinal cord. These endogenous cells could be stimulated more easily, safely and more efficiently (Seri et al, 2001). However, it could be concluded that, despite the difficulties and problems associated with haploidentical stem cell transplantation is still beneficial to those are in need of transplantation and cannot find their matched donors, due to the lack of other treatment options. Moreover, future research, significantly those which include adoptive immunotherapy, a more advanced graft engineered technique, and chemoprophylaxis against possible infectious diseases might reduce risks associated with this therapy (Nassar, 2012).
Stem cells have more been paid attention after the birth of the first cloned animal in 1997, the Dolly sheep and derivation of embryonic stem cells in 1998 (Australian stem cell centre, 2005). It is argued that stem cells are the ideal cells that could be used to introduce genes into them and make them genetically modified in order to construct different types of cells that could treat various genetically determined diseases, such as cancers, Alzheimer, diabetes, and many more (Grace, 1998). However, one of the arguments that almost arise when dealing with stem cells is the fact that stem cells are self-renewal cells and their over reproduction during treatment might have adverse effects on the patients that acquire that treatment. For example they might not be able to stop self-renewing at some point and ultimately give rise to cancer (Seri et al, 2001). Recently, scientists suggest that stem cells may be the reason of the mutant cells that give rise to cancerous tumours and promote their growth. They have identified what they call "cancer stem cells" in blood cancers, such as leukaemia, and in other cancers such as brain cancers breast cancers. The finding suggests the possibility that those mutations that cause development of cancer might have originated in the human body's small supply of normally occurring stem cells. Cancer stem cells are similar to those normal cells in several ways. For example, they are both self-renewing, which means that when they divide, one of the daughter cells differentiates into a specific cell type that finally stops dividing, but the other keeps its stem cell characteristics, involving the ability to divide in the same way repeatedly (Marx, 2003).
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In addition, on-going developments in the field of embryonic stem cells research has opened a new window toward potential treatments to serious diseases, however, it involves using women to donate oocytes to create human embryonic stem cells for research purposes without receiving any benefit. On the other hand, this may put the donors under the risk, while others reap the benefit. For example, in order to produce oocytes they require ovarian stimulation and this might result in severe ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome which may cause physical harm, and consequently, pain, renal failure, and the need for hospitalization. They may also suffer from other future negative outcomes, such as infertility or even death (Magnus and Cho, 2005). However, during performing research, such ethical issues are often solved through giving participants the opportunity either to participate or not. Those who agree to donate participate in such research they would be given clinical information about the risks and benefits of participating, and they have to agree on research consent form which involves ethical issues of tissue donating (Magnus and Cho, 2005).
In conclusion, stem cell therapy is at the cutting age of biomedical science and has numerous effects on nowadays scientific research and it is of great deal to improve their applications outside the lab as a seed to treat serious diseases that are incurable otherwise. However, the area is still too argumentative and ethical issues underpinning this kind of research are of a great controversy.