Stem cell treatments are a major development in genetic and medical history. Stem cells hold the ability to treat many debilitating illnesses although their uses in treatments raise many ethical debates.
Firstly, let’s define a stem cell. A stem cell is an unspecialised cell that can form specific cells such as a heart, lung or tissue cell. A stem cell is a template for all cells. There are two types of stem cells: pluripotency stem cells and adult stem cells.
Pluripotency stem cells are found in embryos and are therefore named embryonic stem cells. Pluripotency stem cells have the ability to form vast numbers of more specific cells in an embryo, allowing embryos to grow and develop into babies. Because embryonic stem cells hold the ability to form a wide variety of cells, they hold great potential when used in stem cell treatments. However, not all people are in favour of using stem cells in medical treatments.
The embryonic stem cells are derived from fertilised human eggs but are destroyed in the process of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer or SCNT.
The process of SCNT involves removing the nucleus of the embryonic stem cell and injecting a nucleus from a different cell into the stem cell. The embryonic stem cell injected with the nucleus from another cell can then be cultivated to regrow the cells from which the nucleus was extracted from. The stem cells grown with the injected nucleus can then be used to replace damage cells. This makes regrowing entire organs and spinal cord tissue possible. This technique was first published by
in 2008. Some people may find this distressing as they believe SCNT is destroying potential human life. Harvard University
However, adult stem cells can also be used in stem cell therapy. An adult stem cell is a tissue specific stem cell and can be found in skin, bone marrow, hair follicles and many other sites around the body. Unlike the embryonic stem cells, they are only able to reproduce a specific cell, as the name suggests. For example, an adult stem cell found in the skin can only reproduce to make other skin cells.
Scientists have discovered a technique to make adult stem cells behave like embryonic stem cells. This is called induced pluripotency or iPS. The iPS stem cells have been genetically modified to mimic a pluripotent embryonic stem cell. This is done by using a virus to convert the adult stem cell to behave like an embryonic stem cell and express the genes needed to form the new cell. In 2010, scientists at
have been able to turn fat cells into iPS cells without the use of a virus, making the process of iPS a lot safer and simpler. Standford University
The iPS cell treatment is not as controversial as embryonic stem cell treatment but yield the same results, therefore making it a more suitable option in medical treatments.
By Olivia Czislowski