Stem Cells Revision
Stem cells can differentiate into many different types of cell. Medical researchers have found ways for stem cells to be used to cure certain diseases but some people disagree with stem cell research and think it is unethical.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells. They can divide to produce more undifferentiated cells or differentiate into different types of cells.
Plant stem cells are found in the meristems and can differentiate into any type of plant cell all throughout the life of the plant. These cells can be used to produce many cloned plants quickly and economically. This technique can be used to prevent extinction of rare plants or to grow large numbers of cloned crops with advantageous features such as disease resistance.
Adults have stem cells in their bone marrow that can differentiate into a certain types of cells such as blood cells.
Early human embryos contain stem cells which are exciting to scientists and doctors because, unlike those found in the bone marrow, embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any human body cell. Human embryo cells can be cloned in a lab and made to differentiate into specific cells needed for research or to cure diseases.
Curing Human Diseases with Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells can be used to treat diabetes (type 1). Patients with type 1 diabetes do not produce enough insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels. Embryonic cells can be made to differentiate into functioning insulin-producing pancreatic cells and then transplanted into the patient to help maintain their blood sugar levels.
Scientists have also found ways for embryonic stem cells to treat people who suffer from paralysis. Paralysis is caused by damage to nerve cells in the spinal cord and embryonic stem cells can be made to differentiate into functional nerve cells. These cells can then be transplanted into the damaged areas to replace the faulty cells.
A common issue with this kind of treatment is the body will often reject the transplanted cells and therefore the treatment will be ineffective.
Therapeutic cloning is when stem cells are made with the same genetic information as the patient. This means cells produced by the stem cell will all contain the same genetic information as the patient and will therefore will not be rejected by the body.
Evaluating Stem Cell Use
Stem cells grown in labs can become contaminated with viruses which are then passed on to patients when used as treatments. This creates a potential risk of further sickness in the patient.
Some people have opposing views on stem cell research and medical use due to religious and ethical reasons:
- Some people believe that human embryos are potential human lives and therefore should not be used to create treatments. They therefore believe that scientists should try to find ways to use other sources of stem cells for medical treatments.
- Others believe that the curing ill people is more important that the rights of embryos and therefore they should be used where possible. The embryos that are used are typically unwanted ones from fertility clinics that would probably be destroyed anyway so they believe it would be a waste not to use them.
Stem Cells Example Questions
Question 1: Where are stem cells found in plants and what cells can they differentiate into?
Plant stem cells are found in the meristem and can differentiate into any type of plant cell.
Question 2: Name one major difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any type of human body cell but adult stem cells can only differentiate into certain types of body cell.
Question 3: Explain why some people agree and some people disagree with using embryonic stem cells for medical research and treatment?
Some people believe that embryos are potential human lives and therefore it would be wrong to use them for research and treatments whereas others believe that curing ill people is more important that the rights of the embryos (especially if they are unwanted embryos from fertility clinics).
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