Stem Cell Research Debates

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

There are many benefits to stem cell research, yet the issue is also rife with ethical controversy. Will we ever find a way to use a potential life-saving technology that doesn't cause a big moral stir? Learn about stem cell research and some of the debates surrounding this issue.

What are Stem Cells?

Have you ever heard of someone peddling a pill or tonic that will supposedly cure every ailment you have? A common name for this type of remedy is 'snake oil' - something that doesn't really exist, but purports to solve lots of problems.

There is a cure that some scientists are saying will cure many diseases, while others are calling it 'snake oil'. What is that cure? It's a process of using something called stem cells, or pluripotent progenitor cells. Those are big words, so let's break them down: pluripotent means they can become more than one cell, and progenitor means they are parent cells that give rise to a wide variety of other cells in your body.

For example, a stem cell in your bone marrow can give 'birth' to everything from red blood cells to a wide variety of white blood cells, the cells that fight off infections.

The Pros of Stem Cell Research

So some people claim that stem cell research will be able to do everything from curing many different types of cancers to regrowing limbs.

Neither of those things have happened yet, but stem cells already have been used to treat various types of cancers, like leukemia. You've probably heard of a procedure called a bone marrow transplant. Well, this is an example of one of the uses of stem cells.

Newer research is yielding a lot of promise in terms of using stem cells to repair a damaged heart; for skin regeneration following severe burns; arthritis; and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease.

The point is: stem cell research has lots of promise and isn't really snake oil at all. Hard science has already shown us that stem cells can provide people with important health care options, and there are hopefully many more to come in the near future.

The Controversy of Stem Cell Research

But let's stop there for a second. We'll have to talk about the fact that some types of stem cell research isn't without its controversy.

You see, the stem cells used in some therapies and research, like bone marrow transplants, come from an adult human's bone marrow. This has been going on for decades without any real ethical controversy.

However, more recently, embryonic stem cells have been used in research due to their greater potential for curing lots of different diseases, when compared to adult human stem cells.

This is where the controversy started. We're essentially destroying human embryos, an organism in its earliest stage of development, right after fertilization for research. To some, using embryos amounts to killing a baby, or at the very least, the potential for a baby.

The beginning of embryonic stem cell research raised a lot of questions in scientific, religious, and other communities. When does a human embryo develop rights? Is a human embryo, only 3-5 days after fertilization, really a child that shouldn't be used for research? When does life actually begin?

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