Stem Cell Research: Potential Masked By Controversy

Disease is one of the most common causes of death, and often times the most difficult to deal with. Although diagnosis isn’t always a death sentence, the absence of proper treatment, or in most cases, the means for proper treatment, can lead to the deterioration of one’s health and ultimately his or her demise. Over time, a serious illness will proceed to get worse and slowly drain the life out of its victim. The magnitude of symptoms will increase, causing short periods of pain to become constant agony and misery. Not only is this hard for the victims, but loved ones are also powerless and forced to watch as a friend, spouse, or family member gradually loses his or her vigor, and slowly disappears from their life altogether. However, scientists have been hard at work to decrease these incidents from happening. In the most recent years, scientist have been experimenting with different methods to treat and cure diseases, one of which is the use of stem cells. Although this method has the potential to work wonders, its positive effects are overshadowed by the controversial method used to harvest these stem cells.

Stem cell research might lead to new discoveries on how to treat, and cure, terrible diseases, but because of the public’s preconceived notions about this area of medicine, it may never get the proper funding it needs in order to grow and develop.”

— Tavis Burton

With intense research and study, advancements and breakthroughs in stem cell research have created new ways to help patients treat their diseases and return to a somewhat normal life. Stem cell research may hold the most potential for not only treating, but also curing some diseases. Despite it’s positive potential, this method is met with controversy, and is struggling to obtain the proper funding because of the methods used to attain these cells.

Stem cells are immature, unspecialized cells that have the potential to become specialized in any part of the body. Stem cells are divided into two categories: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are found in already formed tissue and organs, but have less of a presence in the blood since most are already specialized and are already used in healthy adults. Embryonic cells, the most controversial of the two, are produced when a newly fertilized egg begins to divide. These stem cells are more present because they are in the early stages of forming the tissue and organs and have yet to become specialized. Both have the ability to become specialized and become part of, or repair different organs throughout the body. Doctors and researchers believe that they can use stem cells to repair damaged organs and cure certain diseases such as type one diabetes and Parkinson’s.

The true controversy of stem cell research lies within obtaining the embryonic stem cells. Since embryonic stem cells come from blastocysts, or a fertilized egg four days after conception, obtaining these cells would come down to two methods: the extraction of the stem cells from aborted fetuses, or using eggs from the remnants of in vitro fertilization,  which is a series of procedures that increase chances for pregnancy in couples with difficulties conceiving. Doctors are able to ask for the eggs from couples who used in vitro, and experiment for research purposes, and also experiment with aborted fetuses with the mother’s consent. This has pro-life supporters, religious individuals, and politicians starving for votes, opposing stem cell research. Despite the fact that this is an effective way of obtaining stem cells, it’s not the only method.

Many different methods exist to harvest stem cells that are used to today in place of embryonic cells. For instance, bone marrow transplants are forms of extracting stem cells. In patients with leukemia, the white blood cells are at dangerously high levels. Bone marrow transplants replace the bone marrow that was damaged during Chemotherapy, or radiation, allowing the patient to recover from the damage and produce new healthy cells. The same can be said for the use of umbilical cords. The stem cell rich blood left in this almost byproduct of childbirth can yield results similar to the use of aborted fetuses. These methods are overshadowed by the public’s focus on the use of aborted fetuses, and as a result, stem cell research gets a bad reputation.

Stem cell research might lead to new discoveries on how to treat, and cure, terrible diseases, but because of the public’s preconceived notions about this area of medicine, it may never get the proper funding it needs in order to grow and develop. In today’s society we don’t often see the whole picture. We are quick to criticize without fully understanding. For years, stem cell research has been a misunderstood and highly criticized concept, but not everybody knows about what it is other than this face of negativity that the masses have created for it. In order to move forward we have to see past the surface, and truly understand all aspects of things that may make us uncomfortable at first; otherwise, we are likely to remain stationary and we may never truly reach our full potential.