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    Stem Cell Research in Modern Medicine

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    Modern medicine has truly evolved throughout the past century due to the introduction of new technology. From having the Internet to allow doctors to quicker research diseases and medications instead of having to go to the library, to minimally invasive and robotic techniques for surgery that allow for tiny openings for surgery rather than large incisions to shorten recovery time. However, stem cells have the potential to completely revolutionize medicine as we know it. Stem cells are going to change medicine because it presents a revolutionary method of treatment for medical conditions.

    A stem cell is a cell that has not yet developed into a specialized cell type in the body and can multiply without limit. Therefore, a stem cell can be influenced to develop into whatever a scientist chooses in a quantity substantial enough to form tissue. As such, stem cells can theoretically be used to restore any part of the body, enticing scientists to study treatments including restoring bone growth, vision in retinal diseases, nerve cell function, and heart tissue. Natasha Parashurama, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Buffalo, left his career in surgery for stem cell technology because of the potential that he saw in stem cells after researching it as a surgeon. Parashurama describes the stem cells as ground-breaking, saying that “we could replace surgery with organ transplantation by regenerating new organs from stem cells”. Before this research, people could only hope to receive transplants that were specifically from people whose organs were compatible with them and because this happened rarely, they would only sit on the donor list. After the research is finished, hospitals can take stem cells from patients, culture them into the necessary organ or tissue, then transplant that into a patient instead of waiting for an organ donor. Many people die each day waiting for a transplant, and stem cell therapy has the potential to save every single one of those lives.

    The potential of stem cells is not limited to reproducing organs for transplant, but stem cells can also treat chronic diseases in medicine. Parashurama describes the potential of stem cells as “infinite [because] it is regenerative medicine [and] nearly all chronic diseases in medicine could be addressed by stem cells”. IBD, inflammatory bowel disease, is when the digestive tract is inflamed or swollen. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The immune cells that overreact to cause the inflammation of the digestive tract are made from hematopoietic stem cells, the stem cells that develop into blood cells. Commonly, hematopoietic stem cells are wiped out when patients with a blood cancer such as leukemia receive radiation and chemotherapy treatment, which is highly toxic to the body, but effective in wiping out the cancer cells. Patients with both Crohn’s disease and blood cancer who received transplants to treat their blood cancers were noticed to have been relieved of their IBD symptoms as well. A trial was done to test the technique of the transplant to test the risks. Christopher Hawkey, the lead researcher of the trial, said that half of the 23 patients had no signs of Crohn’s disease a year after transplant, and just over a quarter had no signs of disease at all” (Bender), Based on the trial statistics, stem cells have a high potential in changing the way chronic diseases are treated today and can do so while lowering the risk that radiation and chemotherapy pose.

    Stem cells can truly revolutionize modern medicine by changing the way we treat diseases in a fashion that comes with less risk and recovery time. Although we have developed minimally invasive techniques that already reduce recovery time and increase the success rate of surgeries, stem cells present the new alternative of regenerative medicine. Stem cells assist the body by regenerating healthy cells and destroying harmful cells by “homing in on sites of injury or disease, secreting bioactive factors that are immunomodulatory (trigger immune responses) and regenerative” (Atkinson). Regenerative medicine restores or replaces the damaged or lost cells in a body, restoring the function that the cells performed. This means that stem cells have the ability to cover a large amount of medicine and the potential to treat a massive amount of diseases and injuries. Regenerative medicine is different from the treatments we give now because currently, treatments are focused on solely eliminating the harmful cells and relying on the body to recover itself over a long period which can be burdensome on the patient and expensive if the treatment was invasive like radiation and chemotherapy. Essentially, the aspect of stem cells that makes it so revolutionary is its ability to be widely applicable and how it has a limited effect on the patient in terms of damage when treating them.

    Despite the high potential of stem cells in medicine and its revolutionary characteristics that can treat a wide variety of diseases, it is still important to note that every treatment comes with its risks. Stem cells are praised for their regenerative capabilities when transplanted into a patient with an illness or injury, however, “if the stem cells travel to an unintended area in the body, it is possible that they may grow into a tumor” (Jin). The movement of the stem cells can be more understood and perhaps even controlled given time and funding. Stem cell research is also somewhat new, having only begun in 1981 when a scientist discovered how to create stem cells from mouse embryos. Because of how young the research is, the federal government has chosen not to spend a lot of money funding stem cell research, only spending $40 million annually on human embryonic stem cell research, which uses human embryos. This limits the number of trials and studies that scientists can do because they have less money for research materials. If the funding for stem cell research is increased, scientists will be able to more quickly conduct studies to improve the efficiency of stem cell therapy and discover ways to ensure the safety of patients who use stem cell therapy.

    The people who will disagree with my claim may either believe the use of human embryos is unethical, or they may believe that stem cell use in medicinal treatment is risky due to having been relatively new. While it is true that stem cell therapy is still unproven and experimental, there have been successful studies and trials that rid the patients of their illnesses. In addition to how young stem cell treatment is, private clinics offering stem cell therapy opened, hoping to take advantage of desperate patients and families without having been FDA-approved. There are some who “engage in false marketing to the public, claiming to use stem cells from body fat or bone marrow when in reality they use amniotic fluid or placental tissue” (Jin). It is important to note that clinics that are not FDA-approved may be exercising false marketing and that stem cells do have risks that may not be vocalized by the clinics. The Lancet, the world’s leading independent general medical journal, believes that the challenges posed by stem cell therapy can be solved through “better science, better funding models, better governance, and better public and patient engagement” (Cossu). The challenges posed by stem cell therapy are largely due to unscrupulous private clinics that promise unrealistic hopes to patients and practice poor science, leading the FDA to think lowly of regenerative medicine when it has such high potential. On the other hand, the others who disagree with my claim because the use of human embryos is unethical. There is stem cell research with human embryos, and there is stem cell research without human embryos. The stem cell research that uses human embryos is referred to as hESC, or human embryonic stem cell research, and is barely funded by the federal government because of ethical issues regarding the use of human embryos. The controversy surrounding the use of human embryos is that some believe that the research destroys human life. In this research, it is impossible to respect moral principles because the embryo must be destroyed in order to obtain embryonic stem cells. In hESC, all the embryos and biological materials are obtained with voluntary consent from donors in exchange for payment. The research with human embryos will benefit researchers more because they will be able to analyze how human cells react to certain stem cell trials and therefore explore safer methods before using stem cell therapy as a treatment.

    Stem cell research provides a vast amount of opportunities for medical advancements that can save countless lives. The potential behind stem cell therapy is limitless in that it can treat a wide variety of diseases and injuries in a fashion that has never been used yet. Regenerative medicine is truly revolutionary and can save so many lives because of how widely applicable it is for treating patients. In addition, stem cell therapy uses the patient’s cells which prevents any incompatibilities with transplants. The risks of stem cell therapy are not yet fully known but can include the creation of tumors if the stem cells are used incorrectly. While stem cell research is still rather new, unproven, and experimental, with enough funding and time, it will be able to be fully implemented in the field of medicine as a viable treatment to save countless lives.

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    Stem Cell Research in Modern Medicine. (2021, Oct 29). Retrieved from

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