Stem Cell Preservation: Behind the Controversy
Currently there are 70 diseases that are treatable with stem cells. A generation ago or a decade ago, these diseases presented a poor prognosis for those diagnosed with them. Today, there is hope in stem cell preservation and stem cell research, but stem cell research is a controversial topic and an end to the debate is nowhere in sight. So what exactly is at debate? Why are emotions so torn when stem cell preservation could save lives?
There are two types of stem cells: adult and embryonic. Adult stem cells can be found in the bone marrow of the adult. Harvesting and preserving adult stem cells are not controversial. Instead, people embrace this research and look to it with hope. Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, present a host of ethical concerns and issues sometimes disturbing the public.
Why? While it’s true that stem cells can be harvested from the umbilical cord, these stem cells are adult stem cells. In order to harvest embryonic stem cells, an in vitro procedure is performed which ultimately destroys the embryo and all chances for its survival. This lethal procedure is what is at the heart of the stem cell preservation debate. So why don’t scientists concentrate on harvesting adult stem cells and leave the embryonic ones alone?
Adult Stem Cells vs. Embryonic Stem Cells
Not all stem cells are created equal. There are actually three classifications of stem cells each with its own healing powers. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on two such classifications.
Embryonic stem cells are the most commonly used stem cells. Why? They are totipotent meaning that they are able to reproduce every type of cell found in the body. They are even capable of forming and entire organism. These cells are the miraculous life savers that offer the most hope to patients dying of certain diseases. Embryonic stem cells also inhibit the body’s immune response which means that there is less chance of rejection after a transplant.
Adult stem cells are multipotent which means that they are able to reproduce only a limited number of cell types. This means that their use in finding certain cures is limited. They are also difficult to harvest and pose many concerns including rejection.
There is no doubt that embryonic stem cell preservation can save lives, but is it at the cost of a human life. Granted, harvesting of stem cells occurs when the embryo is still a collection of cells. But then the debate rages. When does life begin?