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English Literary File_Vol 6

Cells of Life By Luke Davis, English 102 Human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research is a recent development in the field of medicine. Human embryos contain versatile stem cells that can be manipulated to become any type of cell. They are thought to have endless possibilities in the field of medicine. Scientists believe they may be able to help treat or even cure degenerative diseases that are currently incurable, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure, and cancer. Given these benefits, stem cell research should not only remain legal but also should continue to be funded by the United States federal government. Human embryonic stem cells are critical in the future of the treatment of degenerative diseases. According to medical definitions presented by the Mayo Clinic, stem cells are the basic cells of the human body which can divide into daughter cells, which turn into “new stem cells (selfrenewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function” (Mayo Clinic Staff). There are several different types of stem cells, but the most commonly researched is the embryonic stem cell. Embryonic stem cells come from a blastocyst, an embryo that is three to five days old and has about 150 cells. They are what the medical community calls pluripotent stem cells, meaning they are versatile and can multiply easily. Embryonic stem cells can be taken from aborted fetuses, but it is much more common to collect them from embryos created in in vitro fertilization clinics. Because so many embryos are made, there are almost always extra embryos left over. The people for whom the embryos were made can decide whether to destroy the extra embryos or to donate them to stem cell research. Other stem cells include adult stem cells which are found in adults’ bodies in small numbers. Adult stem cells are not versatile, as they usually cannot change into specialized cells. Scientists have recently begun to change adult stem cells into more versatile cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells, but researchers do not know if using these induced cells from adults might have harmful side effects in humans (Mayo Clinic Staff). Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, can help to repair damaged cells or organs. While organ transplants are often a better way to help a patient, there is a limited supply of organs available. Stem cells are manipulated to become different types of cells, such as heart cells or nerve cells. When they are implanted into the damaged area, the healthy stem cells can work to repair the hurt tissue around them. Stem cell therapy to regrow bone marrow, used to treat leukemia and other bloodrelated diseases, is being applied today. Because of its importance in the future of medicine, HESC research needs funding. The Alliance for Aging Research argues in its article “Embryonic Stem Cell Research to Save the Lives of Millions” that embryonic stem cell research, despite the moral ambiguity of using embryos, needs to be Figure 1 A colony of embryonic stem cells, from the H9 cell line (NIH code: WA09). Viewed at 10X with Carl Zeiss Axiovert scope. Image by Ryddragyn, 2006. Image available at Wikimedia Commons. federally funded, not developed exclusively by private companies, in order to support the academic research that is necessary to unleash the full potential of embryonic stem cells. After explaining the vast benefits, the author contends that curtailing government funding for stem cell research could be devastating for its future. While the private sector would still be able to carry it out, public universities would not. The author quotes Dr. James Thomson as saying, “The best minds in this research are still in academia, not industry. . . . To exclude the best minds in the whole field would set back the effort tremendously” (“Embryonic Stem Cell”). The research would also be much less transparent if it were privately funded. If funded by the government, ELF 2015 (Vol. 6) 2


English Literary File_Vol 6
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