The National Institue of Health (NIH) defines the stem cells as those cells which have the capability or potential to differentiate themselves into any specialized cell of the human body and that those new cells perfectly fulfill the functions that correspond to them. These cells are very important in the early stages of life because, thanks to their differentiation, the different organs and systems can be properly formed and the human body can grow.
It is also important to say that stem cells are considered by the experts as a sort of “internal repair system” of the human body. It is an excellent repair system because it does not have a limited number or a limited type of cells that can replace. However, not all the organs and systems are able to stimulate it when they suffer a damage.
As the use of stem cells for treating different diseases have grown up in popularity, the ethical implications about their use have also sparked the debate of many experts (including doctors, politicians and religious people) in the last years. However, as the results of most stem cells researches have been promising in many medical areas, it is very important to know the pros and cons of stem cell research in order to develop our own criteria.
What are the Pros and Cons of Stem Cell Research?
One of the main pros of stem cell research is the fact that the experts have determined that there are many ways to obtain these cells from the human body, during both childhood and adulthood. In fact, during the last decades, the stem cells have been obtained from many sources, including bone marrow cells, cord blood cells and even manipulating some differentiated cells to return them to a pluripotential/multipotential state.
This means that stem cells are accessible, and they can be obtained by both invasive and non-invasive methods.
The experts say that pluripotent stem cells can be obtained from human embryos that only have a few days of being conceived (embryonic stem cells). On the other hand, multipotent stem cells can be obtained from adults and from the umbilical cord blood of newborns.
Another “pro” of embryonic stem cells is the fact that they can grow indefinitely when they are under ideal conditions in a specialized laboratory, while non-embryonic stem cells have the contra that they have a limited capacity of proliferation.
Another important “pro” determined by stem cell research is the fact that these cells can be effectively used as an important part of the regenerative medicine. It represents a huge advance in medicine because it can mean a definite treatment for chronic diseases such as cancer (all types), Diabetes, neurological injuries and illness, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, among others.
A “pro” of stem cells research is the fact that among the wide range of diseases that can be treated with this therapy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease, different types of cancer and their comorbidities, Diabetes Mellitus type 1, heart diseases, strokes, spinal cord and other neurological injuries, replace or repair damaged organs, reduce the risk of developing a transplant rejection, among others can be included. Remember that only a qualified doctor can determine if a patient is a good candidate to undergo a stem cell therapy.
One of the main cons of stem cell research is that using embryogenic stem cells is considered unacceptable by the laws of many countries and many religions. This is because to obtain this type of stem cells, the experts must destroy a blastocyst, which is defined as an embryo obtained from a human egg fertilization which has been left to develop until day 5 or 6. So, people who consider that life begins in the conception, also consider that destroying a blastocyst is murder, so it is immoral even when it can be used with good intentions.
This can explain why, during the last years, the non-embryonic sources of stem cells (such as cord blood) have gained so much popularity and have been studied more thoroughly than the embryonic sources. At this point, it is very important to highlight that this fact is also considered part of the “cons” because, as it was mentioned before, the non-embryonic stem cells can differentiate themselves into a limited number of cells, so they are considered by some experts as “less powerful”.
On the other hand, these “cons” have lead the stem cell researchers to study more deeply the non-embryogenic stem cell lines and they have been able to demonstrate that they are a successful option for treating certain diseases which are difficult to control with the existing treatments.
An important example of the magnificent use of adult stem cells can be seen in the oncologic patients who are under chemotherapy treatments or who underwent a bone marrow transplant. Adult stem cells can be used to replace the blood-cell-forming cells that have been destroyed by chemotherapeutic agents or those which can’t be produced by a new bone marrow which has not started to work after the transplant.
Many people have the wrong idea that stem cell research is an important step in human cloning. It is considered a con because many people are against the possibility of developing the human clones. However, it is important to say that this fact is not clear, and it only limits the development of important researches in this area.
Finally, the experts always emphasize the fact that there is still a lot to learn about stem cells and human growth. So, at this moment, it is very difficult to include all the pros and cons of stem cell research in an article.
However, it can be concluded that this is a very promising finding, and it is very important to bring support to the researchers dedicated to this area in order to understand all the potential and limitations of this therapy.