The use of embryonic stem cells in research and in medical application is a controversial area. Despite the benefits of research using embryonic stem cells, there are a variety of ethical issues surrounding this area of medicine.
Embryonic stem cells are from embryos that have been donated for research purposes or embryos that were otherwise going to be destroyed from an in vitro fertilisation clinic. They are an important area of medicine to research, as these cells have not differentiated, in other words, they are not specialised so have the potential to differentiate into a wide variety of cells, including skin cells for skin grafts as well as many other types of cells.
There are many diseases that may be treated efficiently via the use of embryonic stem cells, including: muscular dystrophy, heart disease even diabetes.
However despite these benefits, many people believe that the use of embryonic stem cells is unethical, as it is harming a living human child. This is controversial as the exact point of consciousness is debatable, many believe that this point is straight after conception, yet others debate that this is when significant organs have developed.
This is why some people believe that research in adult stem cells is both more successful and more ethical. The origin of adult stem cells in the human body is still under investigation, although a large majority can be found in bone marrow. Scientists now have evidence that stem cells exist in the brain and the heart. If the differentiation of these adult stem cells is able to be controlled, then it is likely that they will play a predominant role in future transplants of organs.
In the 1950s, researchers discovered that the bone marrow contains at least two kinds of stem cells: hematopoietic stem cells which form all of the types of blood in the body and the more commonly known, bone marrow stromal stem cells. However despite the research surrounding adult stem cells, they are found in short supply and “once removed from the body, their capacity to divide is limited, making generation of large quantities of stem cells difficult.”
Furthermore, there are a large variety of similarities and differences between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can become all cell types of the body because they are pluripotent. Adult stem cells are thought to be limited to differentiating into different cell types of their tissue of origin.
Embryonic stem cells are also easier to grow in laboratories, yet adult stem cells are described as rare in mature cells as there are a relatively small proportion of them. Moreover, in order to be useful, a large number of cells is needed in order to grow organs for use in transplants.
Adult stem cells are less likely to face rejection as they can be made using the patients own cells, so rejection after transplantation is reduced significantly. This is important as it means that there is a minimal need for immunosuppressant drugs to be used, which themselves, can have detrimental effects on a patient as they weaken the immune system in order to reduce the likelihood of rejection. This means that the patient will be more at risk and more susceptible to common illnesses and more ta risk in general of being unable to fight invading pathogens.