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Stem cells: how is stem cell research carried out, and its benefits to medicine

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Introduction

First biological principal: What are stem cells and How stem cell research is performed. Stem cells are a small group of cells found in the umbilical cord of a new born baby, Blastocyst embryos and some organs of the body. Research is being conducted into the potential medical uses of stem cells for growing replacement organs. This research is carried out under very strict guidelines which prevent any exploitation of the research and prevent it from becoming too close to cloning. Current stem cell research is focusing on the need to develop growth factors that can trigger a stem cell culture to differentiate into a cell type, be it liver, lung kidney or heart. Development of these growth factors for any kind of cell type in the human body would have massive implications for medical science and potentially drugs testing. There has been a recent development in which a group of liver cells were grown in the laboratory solely from stem cells. This was only possible due to a growth factor that essentially activates or deactivates genes within the stem cells. Once the gene has been "turned on" transcription of the DNA into mRNA occurs. This mRNA codes for the specific gene and tells the stem cells what cells to develop; in this case it was a liver cell. The above case is particularly applicable to embryonic stem cells and Cord blood stem cells. ...read more.

Middle

A technique referred to as therapeutic cloning could also be used to create organs. A suitable tissue sample is taken from the recipient's body and a cell from that sample is fused with an ovum to create a diploid cell. This is similar to a zygote. The cell could then be stimulated into undergoing division. Once the embryo has become a Blastocyst, the stem cells could be harvested and cultured. Stimulation to generate a certain cell type could be performed and the cells left in culture. Organs could potentially be created from these cells and transplanted into the recipient. There is no risk of rejection as the organs would have the same DNA as the recipient as their DNA was used in creating the organ. In order to grow an organ in culture, a fertilized embryo would be needed that had developed into a Blastocyst with stem cells present. The stem cells are cultured and a "trigger" is added to stimulate genes to become active. This would give the stem cells the information needed to produce the desired cell type. However, the "trigger" has yet to be discovered for all cell types in the human body, severely limiting their use in current medical research. Scientists have recently grown a segment of human liver from the stem cells extracted from the umbilical cord of a baby. This was a medical breakthrough as stem cells had never been used to grow an organ. ...read more.

Conclusion

There are concerns that if stem cell treatment was fully developed that the costs of treatment would be very high due to the need for embryo donors and the storage of these embryo's. The Future for stem cell research. The future for stem cell research depends upon the discovery and development of growth factors. These are the triggers which tell the stem cells to specialise and what to specialise into. If growth factors could be developed for every cell type in the human body: * Entire organs being grown from stem cells in a lab which means there could be transplants available quickly for all who need them * No rejection of the new organs, as the DNA of the organ matches the DNA of the recipient. * Spinal injury victims could be given hope to walk and feel as before their injury. * Leukaemia patients could be cured without painful bone marrow transplants. * Stem cells may also prove useful during the development of new methods for gene therapy that may help people suffering from genetic illnesses. There are medical advances occurring all the time in stem cell research. Recently, scientists were able to grow an entire heart valve from stem cells, this gives rise to the potential for the growth of an entire beating human heart. Degenerating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's could be cured through the insertion of cells in the hope of causing regeneration of damaged cells.iv Stem cells could also aid the research into why some cells grow uncontrollably such as cancer and birth defects. ...read more.

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