Stem cells are cells that have the ability to become different types of cells in the body. During fetal development, the cells become differentiated and form the various tissues like bone, muscle, and organs. Stem cells have not been programmed to form a particular type of tissue. What are stem cells used for?
The ability of these cells to become cells for different types of tissues has made them the focus of treatment research for many illnesses. Stem cells are used in research to learn more about how cells and cell development affect disease. Sometimes, stem cells are used to test new medications. Some people have ethical objections to the use of stem cells and some of the stem cell research that includes gene manipulation.
One of the common ethical objections pertains to the source of the stem cells used in research. Stem cells can be obtained from human embryos and aborted fetuses. Though many people associate stem cell research with aborted fetuses, people should understand that not all stem cells are obtained from aborted fetuses.
Stem cells can be obtained from umbilical cords and cells from adults. Even collections of fat cells procured from liposuction procedures can contain stem cells. Menstrual blood is another source of stem cells. So, not all stem cell research depends on embryos and fetuses.
Some medical treatments are already using stem cells. Stem cells are being used as a treatment for leukemia. Research is being conducted in hopes of learning how to use stem cells to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other debilitating and sometimes fatal diseases.
In some cases, stem cells can be used to repair tissues that have been torn or otherwise damaged. Injecting stem cells at the site of the tissue tear may result in the stem cells replacing the torn cells and rebuilding the healthy tissue. These treatments that use stem cells to replace damaged cells are sometimes called cell-based therapies.
Many people hope that stem cell research will lead to more advanced cell-based therapies that may replace or greatly enhance the current organ transplant process. Organ transplants can cause complications such as rejection of the transplanted organ by the person’s body. Some researchers are working to understand how stem cells may be used to reduce this potentially fatal complication of organ transplants by using stem cells to ensure a perfect match to the organ recipient.