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Stem Cell Research:
Stem cell research is arguably one the most progressive medical discoveries in the last twenty years. With this discovery, scientists hope to increase the understanding of how diseases occur, generate healthy cells to replace these diseased cells, and also use these cells to test the effectiveness and safety of new drugs. With stem cell research, comes the hope of curing the many diseases and genetic disorders that effect millions of people every year. However, despite the promise of successful new methods to treating patients, there is still much dispute about the use of stem cells and the moral and ethical concerns behind their use.
Stem cells are the cells from which all other cells have their origin. All specialized, or differentiated, cells in the body are created from a pool of stem cells that are found in embryos in their earliest stage. An embryo is a group of cells that forms when a womans egg is fertilized with a mans sperm. Stem cells are valuable because they are the only cells that have the ability to self- renew or differentiate. When cultivated in a laboratory, a stem cell creates daughter cells by dividing to form more cells. The daughter cells can then be used to create specialized cells, each with a specialized function, or to create more stem cells.
There are two types of stem cells: embryonic and adult. Embryonic or pluriponent stem cells come from the earliest stage in human development. These cells have the ability to produce any and all of the body??™s cell types. On the other hand, adult stem cells come from the tissues, like bone marrow, in fully developed humans. These cells, also known as multiponent cells, can only produce certain types of the body??™s cells and are limited in their abilities. Because of their potential to produce all types of the body??™s cells, embryonic stem cells are more desirable for use to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs in people. Scientists have also found that adult cells dont seem to have the same unique ability to multiply like embryonic stem cells do. In addition, because adult cells come from a fully developed human, they are more likely to contain abnormalities or defects caused by errors in the cell??™s reproduction or from environmental hazards, such as toxins.
The use of embryonic cells is the element of controversy. Embryonic stem cells, as the name denotes, come from an embryo. The embryo is a fertilized human egg and thus contains all the potential to later become a fully developed human. However, extracting stem cells from the embryos destroys the embryos and therefore destroys all of its potential for life. Because of this reason, adult stem cells are the type that is actively being used. Many people struggle with the idea of destroying an embryo even for the purpose of saving an already existing human. There are many articles and broadcasts designed to warn people of the immoral conditions of stem cell research, though, in reality most do not understand or explain the actual process of cultivating stem cells and portray it to be similar to aborting a fetus in a woman??™s uterus.
Despite efforts to cease stem cell production and use, researchers say the field is very promising. Stem cell transplants using adult stem cells continue to be refined and improved. According to recent research adult stem cells may be somewhat more versatile than originally understood, which means they may be able to treat a wider variety of diseases. Researchers are enthusiastic about the potential for regenerative medicine treatments.
Even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is requesting public comment on a revision to the definition of human embryonic stem cells in the ???National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research.??? In February, 2010, the NIH proposed replacing the current definition of tem cells with one that is more positive about the use of embryonic stem cells and less suggestive with its definition. This will ultimately gain more favor among people as the issue becomes more popular.
Despite the ethical sensitivities that have been expressed regarding the sources of stem cell lines, I believe that obtaining cells from legally obtained abortants or from early stage embryos that are destined to be discarded in the course of in-vitro procedures and making them available for potentially life-saving purposes would be viewed as ethically permissible if not a moral obligation. Millions of these embryos are thrown out each year, destined to be useless. If we can use these discarded embryos to save existing human life, I believe that it would be foolish to not use them to our advantage and to gain a better understanding of the diseases afflicting the people of our world.