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Stem cells are the undifferentiated or non-specialized cells that have the potential to grow into other cells. They give rise to new cells to replace the dead or injured cells.
There are several arguments for using stem cells in biomedical research and medicine. Stem cells exist throughout the life of a person, from the fetal period to late adulthood.
We can obtain them from different tissues, including bone marrow, fat tissue, placenta, etc. Depending upon their location, stem cells can be hematopoietic, mesenchymal, neural, epithelial, or skin stem cells.
The stem cell research began in 1999, which started a debate about the pros and cons of stem cells.
What is Stem Cell Research?
Stem cell research is the field of research that deals with the study of fundamental properties of stem cells to discover their potential use and clinical significance in medicine.
The scientists and researchers derive stem cells from different body tissues, grow them in the laboratories, and carry out tests and experiments to investigate the benefits and hazards of stem cell therapy.
As stem cells are an integral part of the human internal repair system, understanding their properties and clinical uses helps us comprehend human body disease and development.
What Are the Methods of Stem Cell Research?
Each of the three different stem cells is being used for research.
- The most primitive method of stem cell research is the use of embryonic stem cells (ESCs).
The researchers get them from the inner mass (blastocyst) of a three to five-day embryo after in vitro fertilization. It is the most widely used method up until now.
- The other stem cell research methods involve the use of adult (non-embryonic) stem cells (ASCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
- Recent researches also include stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord after childbirth and amniotic fluid during the fetal period.
Opinions on Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research aims to understand the use of stem cells in treating different diseases. Since the results are fairly promising, there seem to be more advantages of stem cell research than disadvantages.
The stem cell research debate continuously exists between doctors, politicians, philosophers, and religious people. The strong opinions on ethical and moral implications from both sides trigger the stem cell controversy’s pros and cons.
The different opinions on stem cell research address two main issues regarding the pros and cons of stem cell therapy. They include methods of research being used and how the knowledge of outcomes will be used.
Stem cell pros and cons vary with different types of stem cells. Here are the stem cells research pros and cons listed;
Pros of Stem Cell Research
Scientists highlight the advantages of stem cell research, varying with embryonic, adult, or induced pluripotent stem cells.
In this section, we will see the stem cell research benefits for each of these.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The most promising pros of stem cell research using embryonic stem cells are that they can grow into almost any type of cell. Because they are totipotent, they can generate most cells of the body.
The pros of embryonic stem cell research also include the use of embryonic stem cells for treating degenerative, malignant, and genetic diseases, or cell injury due to hypoxia, toxins, infectious agents, immunological reactions, nutritional imbalance, physical agents, and inflammation.
Another embryonic stem cell research pro is to learn and understand the stages of human growth and development, which leads to the comprehension of abnormalities in the human body.
The embryonic stem cells can survive and grow in specialized laboratory culture for over one year, which offers indefinite growth in ideal conditions. These advantages of embryonic stem cells are useful for long-term study purposes.
Adult Stem Cell Research
The unique regenerative capabilities of adult stem cells have established tremendous success in various clinical applications, medical beneficiaries, and remedial sectors of regenerative medicine, which is one of the most significant pros of stem cell research.
Their effectiveness and availability make them the most useful stem cells in cell-based therapies to cure diseases. They are used to treating a wide range of chronic and degenerative diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, parkinsonism, myasthenia, multiple sclerosis, cirrhosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. There is evidence about the successful treatment of patients at various centers of regenerative medicine, for example, at Swiss Medica.
The next pro of adult stem cells is their role in cancer research. They replace abnormal diseased cells to generate healthy cells.
In different stages of life, different tissues are the sources of adult stem cells from which they can be easily accessible. It is another pro of stem cell research.
Since the researchers derive the adult stem cells from the patient’s own body tissues, they are less likely to be rejected by his immune system. In other words, the pros of adult stem cell research include reduced risk of transplant rejection compared to ESCs or iPSCs.
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research
Unlike embryonic and adult stem cells, the induced pluripotent stem cells’ pros and cons are unique. They proliferate rapidly. That’s why only a few of these stem cells are needed initially.
Since they are genetically reprogrammed adult stem cells that behave like embryonic stem cells, they avoid the issues of histocompatibility with donor or recipient cell transplants, which is another promising pro.
Stem Cell Research Cons
Every research faces opposition, but the negatives of stem cell research highlight a strong ethical and theological disregard. Even on this basis, all the procedures utilizing the human embryonic stem cells were banned in Europe in 2011.
The embryonic stem cell research cons state it immoral and unethical by certain laws and religions. People against stem cell research argue that ending one human life (destruction of the blastocyst to get stem cells) cannot be justified hoping to save another human life.
The embryonic stem cells can grow haphazardly into any random cells spontaneously. It has led to the more use of non-embryonic stem cells, in particular, mesenchymal multipotent stem cells which have their own disadvantages of stem cell research.
For example, adult stem cells have a limited capacity to proliferate, making them more time-consuming in obtaining them for cell-based therapy. Although they are easily accessible, getting them from the human body is an invasive procedure which may be quite a painful process.
Other cons of stem cells include the long period of growth of stem cells before use, and even after thorough research, they still don’t work for certain patients. It is because of too costly to afford or higher rejection rates and unsuccessful treatments.
Problems with stem cell research also comprise long-term adverse health effects, including tumorigenesis. Another factor why stem cell research is bad is the risk of certain abnormalities because of environmental toxins or genetic errors that appeared during replication.
If rejected, the stem cells might trigger an immune response or cannot function normally, with no known reasons. Thus, one of the greatest cons of stem cell research is that there is no guarantee whether the therapy would be helpful, despite the successful treatment stories of some patients provided by the media.
The Bottom Line
To summarize the potential benefits and issues of stem cell research, the conclusion is that there is a lot that’s yet to be discovered amidst the stem cell research controversy.
While it is necessary to understand all the potentials and limitations of the therapy, the arguments for and against stem cell research need to analyze the associated human benefits with the least possibility of risks involved.
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