Stem cell research is considered by many people to be the next big thing in medicine, something that holds the promise of medical breakthroughs in research into cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease, among other conditions. But it is a highly controversial topic that some call murder, because one type of stem cells involves come from human fetuses.
Stem cells are immature cells that can develop into different types of cells in the body. There are two basic types: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells can be found not only in adults, but in children and infants. These are stem cells that live in tissue that is already developed. Research with adult stem cells has been limited, because of the difficulty in growing them in lab conditions.
Embryonic stem cells are produced when a newly fertilized human egg begins to divide. This type of stem cell can become any type of cell in the body.
Scientists have been researching the biology of stem cells for decades, trying to find out how development works, and find new ways of treating disease and other health problems. Because stem cells can develop into any tissue found in the body, they have great potential for medical applications. Medical researchers say stem cell research ma hold the key to preventing or curing a host of diseases, including type 1 diabetes and heart disease. It is possible that they might one day be used to replace or repair tissue that has been damaged by disease or injury.
Alexander Potoczak of Ohio is studying Economics, Biology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College, but also has experience in graduate level biology and stem cell research.