By Siedah Morrish
Imagine a world in which the regrowth of human organs was possible, a place where diseases would not be feared because no matter what, there would always be a cure. That world is one where stem cells are present. The tiny, specialized cells, scientifically referred to as Cellula praecursoria, have the power to change the course of scientific evolution, and the benefits they provide are ones that would be valuable for generations to come. The use of stem cells as a way to treat those who are physically impaired has proven so far to be one of the most beneficial methods of our time, and the scientific community looks forward to the impending life changing effects that their treatments will spur.
Stem cells are cells that occur naturally, these multicellular organisms are found within both animals and humans, supporting the growth of the body. There are two main types of stem cells, embryonic, which come from embryos, and cells that are derived from adult tissues. Embryonic stem cells are different from other cells because they are undifferentiated and thus have the ability to morph and become whatever the body needs. For a cell to be undifferentiated it means that it has not yet been developed, it is an immature cell that has been unassigned, and is lacking the programming that gives it a primary function. At the time of cell division the stem cell divides, with one of the daughter cells remaining a stem cell and the other becoming a specialized cell, allowing it to evolve into anything ranging from a blood cell to a nerve cell. In addition to these two types of stem cells, there are also other types including those that can be derived from the fetus, umbilical cord blood and the placenta.
Treatments using stem cells are some of the newest and most exciting in health and science, with those in support of the procedure backing up their ideas with evidence based largely within the realm of logic and hard facts. These treatments rely on the ideological belief that the progression of stem cell research is a no brainer: to stem cell advocates, it is the idea that if any steps can be taken to save a human life, they should be, and stem cell treatment can do just that. This treatment process takes advantage of the body’s native methods of repair and regeneration; therefore it makes obvious sense. Politicians and scientists alike agree that stem cell research and treatment has the potential to save lives, and the possibilities would be endless as to the life altering effects it would promote. The effect that increasing stem cell research would have within the scientific community would be immense, creating new pathways to treatment, guiding humanity closer to the once inconceivable idea of curing deadly diseases and a variety of other harmful bodily conditions.
Stem cell treatments have been conducted far and wide, with many incredible success stories, the case of Laura Dominguez is one of the most powerful. At the age of sixteen years old Laura Dominguez was in a tragic car accident, paralyzing herself from the neck down, there was no hope of her ever walking again, it was a stem cell transplant that essentially changed life. Dominguez sustained an injury along her vertebrae, an injury located on her spinal cord, specifically on what doctor’s refer as the C6 vertebrae. The functioning of each and every vertebrae is essential to ensuring the full mobility of one’s spine, and with the affected vertebrae located at the critical point between her head and shoulders, the results were horrifying. Dominguez was told that she would never be able to walk again, never be able to return to a normal life, but with the aid of stem cells, that theory was rejected. With a transplant of adult stem cells from tissue within the olfactory sinus into her spinal cord, she began the process of healing. Within mere weeks of the transplant, doctors announced that “approximately 70% of the lesion looked like normal spinal cord tissue”, thus, because of the miracle of stem cells, she was cured, able to walk again once more.
The story of Laura Dominguez is gradually becoming the norm, more and more people that are being ‘miraculously’ cured by stem cell transplants are beginning to emerge. The fact that someone was able to achieve such a huge breakthrough demonstrates how lucrative the research is, how greater access to treatment could open up doors to treating other ailments. Without stem cells Dominguez would not have have been able to control her own movements, her body would have been paralyzed forever. As a quadriplegic there was no hope for her to ever regain normal bodily functioning again. If it wasn’t stem cells, what would it have been? Nothing. There was no other option for a cure, there still isn’t a bette alternative, gone would her chances have been in the hopes of having a normal life. The transplant of stem cells into the affected area of her body meant that she would once again be able to run, to dance, to feel the feeling of the blood rushing through her toes.
Laura Dominguez isn’t the first to have undergone a stem cell transplant, and most certainly won’t be the last. Athletes, students, children alike have all had stem cell transplants, their lives changing for the better because of it. As of now the boundaries as to what types of diseases and conditions these transplants can cure are endless, the furthest possibilities of treatment have yet to be established. All over the world scientists are realizing the true way that this treatment would impact the world, from Europe to Japan slowly but surely information is being cultivated and advances are being made.
One of the biggest issues that has been continually run into within this debate is whether or not stem cell research is worth it. Whether or not it is worth the potential conflict of morality, worth the possible economic burden that it could place on government agencies and private hospitals. The answer to that question is clearly yes. In multiple studies and treatments administered and conducted by ViaCord, a cord blood stem cell bank, it has been found that well over eighty diseases can be treated by stem cells, and that is only the beginning.
In general the people who support stem cell research believe that it is of the utmost importance to study it further, that it is vital not only the evolution of treatments, but science too. It was within Executive Order 13505 enacted by President Obama in 2009 that he choose to lift the previous ban that former President Bush had on stem cell research. Obama is a firm supporter of stem cell research and it is his belief that federal funding should support research because if its value in a multitude of situations. Nancy Reagan is also a firm believe in stem cell research, saying (on research into stem cells), that “We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases – and soon. As I’ve said before, time is short, and life is precious”. There are many different groups and organizations that believe in stem cell treatment, including the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, more commonly known as “California’s Stem Cell Agency”. The agency is invested in the funding of research, supporting the smaller organizations that are actually researching and experimenting with the creation of stem cell treatments. The reason in which they stand behind this type of research is because they believe in the idea of what it is that these possible treatments can do in the long run. They believe that at some point in the near future the world will no longer have to rely on a 50/50 chance that a treatment will work. This agency, like so many others is weighing the costs and benefits of the treatment, and based on all of the success, the progress of many studies, they have dedicated themselves to the cultivation of a cure. The people who oppose it believe that it is immoral, that because embryonic stem cells, specifically, are derived from fetuses, that taking stem cells is equivalent to performing an abortion. The issues with morals are primarily what the opposition is riding on, but in the grand scheme, the potential benefits of the research rise above all the potential cons. The fact that lives can be saved, disease can be treated and a new hope can be cultivate for so many simply by using stem cells is a no brainer.
At this point the impetus behind stem cell research is evidently moving forward. More and more people are embracing the idea of stem cell transplants, realizing that the benefits are going to be worth the cost for research, the cost for dissemination. The efforts that Obama has made to spur the movement of this research have started the fire within the US to continue the research that has already come so far. When it comes to stem cell treatment, the possibilities are endless and the future is bright.