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Stem cell research: the debate continues to rage

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The list of medical or scientific endeavours mired in controversy is fairly short, but stem cell research and related therapy are some of the most contentious issues in modern science. Simply, stem cell therapy involves the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition, a form of this type of treatment involves bone marrow transplant – which is a relatively common operation. Whilst this may not strike you as something worthy of debate, it is because it is the further research in stem cell therapy that has become a battleground of ideology and discussion.

There is research and case studies showing that stem cell therapy involving cells from the umbilical cord blood of infants as well embryonic stem cells from human embryos. Although the former is fairly innocuous, is the latter, which requires a human embryo that has caused controversy, as to harvest them, you must destroy the embryo.

Stem Cells Diagram
Stem Cells Diagram; source wikimedia.org; author Mike Jones

Understandably, there is a lot of opposition to the use of human embryonic stem cells in research, often times based on a range of philosophical, moral, or religious objections, with most protesters worried of cloning embryos just to harvest these cells. Theology, philosophy and morality aside, the medical possibilities of embryonic stem cells are almost limitless.

A. Stem cell colonies that are not yet differentiated. B: Nerve cells, an example of a cell type after differentiation.” source wikimedia.org; author Nissim Benvenisty.

Doctors have explained that due to the nature of these cells, they are more flexible and can be put to a far greater range of uses than other more conventional stem cells. They pertain that these cells could help treat an incredibly high amount of diseases and illnesses including but not limited to neurodegenerative diseases and conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Of course, this only adds to the mounting debate surrounding the use of these cells, further driving questions from a moral and philosophical viewpoint as to whether or not it is ethical to be using embryonic stem cells, despite the purported benefits. Although research continues into the use of these specific cells, and governments grapple with potential legal and medical ramifications, it is important to realize that there are several other stem cell opportunities that do not require the same controversial source.

Although there has been blowback on other forms of research in the sector – namely the use of umbilical blood – the use of bone marrow transplants and other such alternative continue to save lives daily. However, until society catches up with science and medicine, there will be a continued debate as to the ethics and morality of this type of research, its applications, and what it could open the door for.

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