The Importance of Stem Cell Research
In March of 2009, after years of hotly debated political, religious, and scientific debates, President Barack Obama lifted the long standing ban on the federal funding of stem cell research. Although the political and religious arguments make for a provocative discussion, the scientific and medical benefits of stem cell research cannot be disputed. In fact, the advantages of stem cell research stretch across multiple areas of science.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells within the human body that have the potential to become many different cells. Essentially, there are two types of stem cells—adult and embryonic.
- Adult Stem Cells—The main purpose of these cells is to repair and maintain the tissue in which they are found. Adult stem cells can renew themselves and differentiate in order to become a specialized cell in a certain kind of tissue or organ.
- Embryonic Stem Cells—Derived from embryos, embryonic stem cells can form nerve, blood, muscle, and various other cell types. These cells need to be isolated by doctors in order to be manipulated for a specific medical purpose
Regardless of the type of stem cell, they both are undifferentiated, capable of dividing and renewing themselves, and can be manipulated to become specialized cells.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Research has shown that stem cells can be harnessed to develop new procedures for treating degenerative heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, stem cells can be used to “help generate new, healthy heart tissue, valves and other vital tissues and structures.” What’s more, stem cell research can provide insight into cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
Michael J. Fox has been one of the most outspoken advocates for stem cell research in the U.S. Parkinson’s disease, which is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain, could potentially be cured by stem cell transplants. Researchers at the University of Minnesota believe that by transplanting stem cells into sites where nerve function is lost they could potentially cure, if not improve, Parkinson’s disease.
The National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research in Brisbane, Australia has begun research using stem cells to treat a devastating genetic disease in which active young people progressively develop paraplegia. Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), a little-known disease, affects only 1000 people in Australia. The Centre hopes to restore nerve function in HSP sufferers. Researchers believe that this could be the first big step in treating paraplegics suffering from major nerve damage.
The medical and scientific possibilities for stem cell research are endless. Advancements in cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and severe nerve damage is seemingly on the horizon. Despite your political, religious, or moral stance on the subject, research in this field can benefit many.
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