One of the most prolonged debates in the field of biology is that on stem cells. They refer to undifferentiated cells that have the ability to separate into other types. Commonly found in a multi-cellular organism, those in mammals have two major groups. The first one is embryonic stem cells that are extracted from the blastula of a placental mammal in which differentiation of cells occurs (Willerth, 2017). The second group is adult stem cells that are found in various body tissues. Stem cells play a crucial role in the body because they help in repairing tissues and replenishing the worn-out ones.
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In the recent past, the field of embryonic stem cell research has been the subject of heated debates and numerous controversies among scientists. The controversy associated with stem cells focuses on the use and destruction of embryos. Research has established that stem cells in a developing embryo often differentiate into numerous specialized cells, as well as maintain the volume of renewable organs that include skin and blood. In human beings, stem cells are often extracted from the bone marrow, adipose tissue, and umbilical cord blood (Knoepfler, 2013). Opponents of stem cells argue that the technology should be discouraged because the destruction of an embryo that constitutes life is not different from abortion, while its proponents argue that an embryo cannot be compared to human life that is vulnerable to several deadly diseases.
Over the years, stem cells have been used in various medical studies with the aim of finding a treatment for some of the deadly diseases that have been troubling people for a long time. In addition, stem cells have largely been used in therapeutic treatment for various conditions such as physical trauma and genetic diseases. Stem cell technology was developed with the aim of exploiting the ability to separate into many cell types, as well as repairing damaged tissues (Danquah & Mahato, 2013). Studies involving stem cells have attracted a lot of controversy due to issues revolving around the lack of restrictions in research and the social aspects involved (Willerth, 2017). In addition, the proponents and opponents of stem cell technology have failed to agree on the importance of destroying the embryo cell in order to save the lives of many patients over the value of the life terminated from the destruction. From a social perspective, stem cell research has been criticized for the manner in which it has compromised the status of women. Critics of stem cell technology describe the fact that researchers use women’s ova in their studies as derogatory (Knoepfler, 2013). Over the years, many societies across the world have developed a low opinion of women because of the way stem cell research has supposedly taken advantage of them.
Religion is a big element in the structure of all societies across the world. In the recent past, it has also been a pivotal point of reference in the arguments made by the two sides regarding stem cell research as evidenced by the decisions made by former American presidents, George W Bush, and Barrack Obama. During his tenure, President Bush banned the use of resources from the federal government to develop new stem cell lines because from a religious point of view he believed life was a precious gift whose sanctity ought to be respected and protected. His successor, President Obama had an opposing view on the issue as he demonstrated his support for stem cell technology by revoking the ban. According to President Obama’s viewpoint that was also influenced by his faith, human beings have an ethical responsibility of taking care of each other by doing everything to achieve the common good.
Proponents of stem cell technology believe that is not morally wrong to end one life in a bid to ease the suffering of millions of human beings that would have eventually died prematurely due to incurable diseases. Further, they argue that the most important things to consider and adhere to when applying stem cell technology are exercising a high degree of responsibility. Although there have been efforts to find a solution to the inadequacies of stem cell technology pointed out by its opponents, studies have shown that they are way below the acceptable standards and further research is necessary (Knoepfler, 2013). One of the common strategies that have been tested is altered nuclear transfer, which allows embryonic stem cells to be obtained without necessarily creating an embryo. Another strategy that has been widely used is blastomere extraction that allows embryonic stem cells to be obtained from a two-day-old embryo that is eventually not destroyed (Bhattacharya & Stubblefield, 2014).
Over the years, the concept of stem cells has been widely researched in a bid to establish their potency in treating various chronic diseases. However, the slow pace with regard to any meaningful developments has been brought about by the controversy propagated through abortion politics. Proponents of stem cell research believe it is part of a solution to the prolonged challenge of ineffective drugs (Sidhu, 2013). With stem cell technology, the number of failures experienced during drug development is greatly reduced. In addition, stem cell plays a crucial role in addressing challenges such as withdrawing of medicine from the market because it does not provide the expected results or due to serious side effects. The opponents of stem cell technology have added more weight to the pro-life movement across the world due to their continued concern for the embryo that is destroyed at its infancy stage in order to save other lives (Knoepfler, 2013).
The proponents defend their position by arguing that the embryos used in stem cell technology are the ones that would have been discarded, but given a chance to survive in the human body (Sidhu, 2013). Additionally, their claims have received strong backing from medical researchers who argue that stem cell technology can effectively change the perception of people regarding certain diseases because effective treatment options will be developed. Although stem cell technology has shown great potential with regard to the advancement in the field of medicine, it is important for all the ethical concerns surrounding it to be addressed in order to make it more appealing to the people set to benefit from it (Lanza & Atala, 2013). As a new technology, experts argue that the reception and acceptability of the technology are highly dependent on the way it is marketed.
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Advantages of Stem Cell Technology
Research has established that stem cell technology has numerous benefits in the field of medicine in terms of developing effective drugs and increasing the effectiveness of medical procedures such as organ transplants. Stem cell research also provides crucial benefits with regard to improving the advancements of therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine. It has largely been applied in discovering a cure for various diseases such as schizophrenia, cancer, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries among others. Another major benefit of stem cell technology is the fact that it helps scientists in learning more about the development of cells within the human body (Sidhu, 2013). This development has been described as the future of medicine because it will enhance the possibilities of treating various illnesses by transplanting organs grown in labs from stem cells. Stem cell technology is also advantageous because it helps to improve the effectiveness of medicine because animals are no longer needed in testing most drugs meant for human treatment. For example, testing of potential drugs using this technology simulates the real effect that a drug has on a specific type of cell within the human body. Research has established that stem cell has reduced the margin of error with regard to the effectiveness of drugs compared to when testing is done using animals (Willerth, 2017).
Stem cell technology also plays a pivotal role in understanding the developmental stages of various cells and tissues, which are difficult to learn inside a human embryo. This has reduced the challenges associated with such studies such as birth defects, infertility, and miscarriages among others. Research has established that through stem cell technology, healthcare practitioners have developed a better understanding of the structure and development of cells within the body, thus enhancing the prevention and treatment of the aforementioned consequences (AL-Rubeai & Naciri, 2013).
Another major benefit of stem cell technology is the fact that it helps in improving patient experiences. A patient’s adult stem cells can be used in treating any illness, thus improving the speed of recovery because it is not possible for a body to reject its own cells. In addition, the fact that embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any cell type enhances the effectiveness of treatment because the matching will be perfect. Research has established that stem cell treatments are very effective with regard to the speedy lowering of disease symptoms once treatment commences (Knoepfler, 2013). This plays a pivotal role in reducing the number of drugs that a patient has to take to recover.
Disadvantages of Stem Cell Technology
There are many arguments as to why stem cell technology should be discouraged as one of the ways of advancing the field of medicine. Although it is widely accepted that stem cell research is important, critics of this technology argue that it is unethical to overlook the disadvantages it poses rather than dismissing their viewpoints as being insignificant. According to the opponents of stem cells, one of the biggest disadvantages associated with this technology is the fact that its research involves the destruction of blastocysts that originate from human eggs (Lanza & Atala, 2013). Their arguments are based on religious beliefs and ethical grounds. They believe that life begins at conception and destroying laboratory fertilized human eggs is unethical and wrong. The second major disadvantage of stem cell research is the fact that there is very little information with regard to the effects of this technology.
According to the opponents of stem cell technology, it is unethical for healthcare practitioners to continue using this technology on patients when they do not know the different effects it’s likely to have on their bodies (Connon & Hamley, 2014). This is against the ethical principles of medical practice with regard to ensuring the safety of patients. For example, many stem cell treatment procedures require the suppression of a patients’ immune system in order to facilitate the exchange of cells during transplant. This can easily lead to a patient suffering serious health complications if the suppression is not done the right way.
Another disadvantage of investing too many resources in this technology is the fact that embryonic stem cells cannot provide a lasting solution for all diseases. This challenge is necessitated by the fact it is not possible to extract adult stem cells from various patients and achieve the same result (Danquah & Mahato, 2013). The main reason for this is the fact that adult stem cells tend to have a lower differentiation ratio in comparison to embryonic stem cells. In addition, there is a high likelihood for adult stem cells to develop a variety of genetic related abnormalities during the development stages, thus reducing their efficiency during treatment.
According to research, adult stem cells are also ineffective in treatment because they are specialized with regard to differentiation, whereby blood stem cells can only make blood while brain cells can only be formed from brain stem cells (Connon & Hamley, 2014). Another major disadvantage of stem cell technology is that it predisposes patients to other health complications depending on the kind of treatment administered. Studies have established that stem cell therapy used to treat cardiovascular diseases often leads to more challenges for a patient because the coronary arteries are left narrower than their normal size (Oliva, 2014). This challenge is closely related to the development of tumors after transplantation. According to opponents of stem cell technology, this is a huge compromise to the safety of patients because it often results in increased suffering.
The prolonged debate revolving around stem cell technology is far from over if the arguments made by both sides are taken into consideration. It is important to note that the development of stem cell technology and continued research on the concept is important in the field of science. From the viewpoints of both the proponents and opponents of stem cell technology, it is clear that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages by a significant margin. Although it is important to appreciate the opinions raised by the opponents, it is only fair to appreciate the fact that stem cell technology is the future of the healthcare industry and the kind of investments being made to advance it now will bear fruit in the coming days. Sometimes, it is important to look at things from an angle different from that taken by religious groups, because people have different religious beliefs, but an illness will not choose its victim based on religion. Without a doubt, life is sacred and all human beings have a responsibility to protect it from losing its sanctity. However, taking into account the fact human beings have an ethical obligation of taking care of each other by reducing the level of suffering, supporting the advancement of stem cell technology is a wise decision that everyone ought to consider taking.
AL-Rubeai, M., & Naciri, M. (Eds.). (2013). Stem cells and cell therapy. Dodrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science & Business Media.
Bhattacharya, N., & Stubblefield, P.G. (Eds.). (2014). Regenerative medicine: Using non-fetal sources of stem cells. London, UK: Springer.
Connon, C.J., & Hamley, I.W. (Eds.). (2014). Hydrogels in cell-based therapies. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.
Danquah, M.K., & Mahato, R.I. (Eds.). (2013). Emerging trends in cell and gene therapy. New York, NY: Humana Press.
Lanza, R., & Atala, A. (Eds.). (2013). Essentials of stem cell biology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Academic Press.
Oliva, P.B. (2014). Antioxidants and stem cells for coronary heart disease. New York, NY: World Scientific Publishing Company.
Knoepfler, P. (2013). Stem cells: An insider’s guide. Singapore, Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.
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Sidhu, K.S. (Eds.). (2013). Frontiers in pluripotent stem cells research and therapeutic potentials: bench-to-bedside. San Francisco, CA: Bentham Science Publishers.
Willerth, S. (2017). Engineering neural tissue from stem cells. San Francisco, CA: Academic Press.