Benefits of Genetically Modified Foods
There has always been a huge amount of controversy in stem cell research and for good reason. It involves the weighing of using human tissues that could grow into a fully-grown person versus the benefits of using that tissue to help give health benefits to a person currently suffering from a disease. These cases are almost always in the headlines, partially because they also fall along the lines of the political spectrum. Many famous persons have come out in support of stem cell research, notably Nancy Reagan whose husband President Ronald Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
To understand this controversy better, it’s good to first know what stem cells are. There are two basic types – adult and embryonic. Both of these cells have the same distinct features, namely, that they can renew themselves indefinitely to create new cells and that they are undifferentiated, meaning they can grow into almost any type of cell. This is a normal feature of these cells and they are used to replaced dying cells in adults and to help develop a fetus in the womb.
For this reason, stem cells can be used to help generate tissue that has been damaged or is degenerating due to aging or a severe disease in areas of the body where specialized cells do not reproduce. Stem cells could be used to treat serious conditions like nervous system injuries, Alzheimer’s (as mentioned above), and even simple conditions like baldness. The methods to do this are still being tested, but ideally, the dividing cells could multiply and then form into the currently missing tissues, replacing the damaged areas and resulting in at least a partial recovery.
Clearly, adult cells are not very problematic to obtain as the donor can freely give them. Doctors can use a patient’s own stem cells for this purpose as well. However, adult stem cells are often predisposed to a specific cell type and they are still needed in the area they were obtained. Embryonic stem cells can grow into any cell type, but have the drawback of possibly being rejected by the recipient’s body.
Embryonic cells are considered the superior choice, however they require the use of an embryo in order to be used. This has lead to a very serious ethical debate as the embryo is considered by many to be a human life. Furthermore, many object to the process because they believe it borders on human cloning. Nonetheless many of the embryos being used are the leftovers of in vitro fertilization, which leaves the stem cells unused otherwise.