How Stem Cells Are Used in Research

The use of stem cells in research is a highly controversial subject. This article will help shed an unbiased light on several different ways cells are used.

Stem cells are cells that have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in a controlled environment and become any type of specialized tissue, such as heart cells or skin cells. Although the research on the potential uses of stem cells has caused quite a controversy, there are several uses of stem cell research that may help convince those opposed to it that stem cells can be important and useful.

Drug Testing

Research conducted on human stem cells could lead to an innovative way to test and develop new drugs. Because stem cells have the ability to create unlimited amounts of specialized tissue, it is possible for scientists to test how drugs would react to these specialized tissues before trying the drugs on live animals or humans. The effectiveness and side effects of the drug would be discovered more quickly using this method.

Why Human Cells?

Using human stem cells is also more beneficial to research than testing on animals because drugs can produce a different reaction in animals than in humans. Scientists also have the ability to change what the specialized cells will become; stem cells can become nerve cells, heart cells or whichever type is needed for the testing of a certain drug.

Human Development

Discoveries in this area are important because most serious medical conditions and diseases, like cancer or genetic birth defects, are caused by abnormal cell divisions and differentiation. A deeper, more thorough understanding of these two processes could help experts pinpoint problems and use gene therapy techniques to avoid them. Gene therapy, or cell therapy, is the process of replacing diseased cells with healthy cells. Research in this area shows great potential for using stem cells as a treatment of disease.

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Regeneration

Stem cells may also give scientists the ability to generate brand new human tissue, which, if successful, means that stem cells could be used to cure diseases that are deemed incurable today. The process of using stem cells to grow new cell tissue is called regeneration, or regenerative medicine.

The process can be completed by either adding differentiated stem cells created in the lab to the damaged organ or by administering certain drugs to push stem cells that are already present to repair nearby damaged tissue. Some diseases that have the potential to see dramatic improvements with the use of stem cells include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and cancer.

Associated Complications

Because current knowledge on the uses of stem cells is relatively new, much more research is needed to continue finding out what they can do. There are many unresolved issues that arise with the implementation of stem cells. When cells are implanted into a human, they must merge with the patient’s cells that are already present, and the two must learn to function together as one.

For example, if cells are not able to do this in the brain, it could cause a major disconnect and the brain will not function properly. A similar challenge is that of cells being rejected after implementation, much like the rejection of transplanted organs.

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