Stem cell research involves the technology that uses generic cells that can duplicate themselves indefinitely and has the ability to create particular needed cells and tissues such as blood, brain cells, muscle and liver tissue. This research began in the mid-1800s, when it was discovered that particular cells could produce other cells and by the 1900s, scientists discovered the first real stem cell through the embryonic stem cell (Masters, Palsson & Thomson 2007). However, the stem cell research has been very controversial over the years, with one group supporting, while another opposing, especially concerning the use of human embryonic stem cells with an intention to create other living cells. Much of the opposition has widely come from the religious quotas that see the process as against Christian values (Murnaghan 2010).
Proponents of Stem cell Research
Proponents of stem cell research argue that the technology has the potential to treat several medical conditions such as heart diseases, Alzheimer, stroke, birth defects, Parkinson’s disease and type one (I) diabetes as well as spinal cord injuries (Murnaghan 2010). The stem cells have made possible the replacement of damaged organs and minimized the risk of transplantation that doctors experienced before. Currently, one can get a copy of own heart for transplant. Equally, cancer patients can get the replacement of cells, destroyed after chemotherapy. With the development of better treatment of these conditions, future social and economic gains to society cannot be quantified.
The research led to the discovery of human histocompatibility antigens by Jean Dausset, a French medical researcher in 1958 who revealed that human leukocyte antigens (HLA antigens) support the immune system ability to determine foreign materials that do not belong to human body. In case the body does not respond to the antigens on cell walls, it consequently creates antibodies that destroy the cell (Masters, Palsson & Thomson 2007). This meant that tissue or organ transplants can only take place if there is complete compatibility between the donor and the recipient. Recently, the embryonic stem cell technology has developed the use of therapeutic cloning to minimize rejection of tissues and organs by patients during transplantation.
The embryonic stem cell research has presently made blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma have several treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and biological therapies. One of the most important treatments is cell transplantation, where blood stem cells are collected from a donor then infused into a patient prior to chemotherapy. The transplanted stem cells generate new blood cells, which replace the damaged as a side effect to chemotherapy, giving a second chance to cancer victims. The trials of transplantation of oligodendrocytes, which are brain and spinal cord cell type developed from human embryonic stem cells by the U.S Food and Drug Administration in 2009, gives hope to the spinal cord patients. This, therefore, makes the proponents to view stem cell research as an answer to human medical problems (Masters, Palsson & Thomson 2007).
Opponents of Stem Cell Research
The opponents of embryonic stem cell research technology argue that destruction of an embryo is equivalent to an abortion. This is because embryo constitutes life, owing to its ability to fully develop into a human being. It is, therefore, immoral and unethical to kill one but claiming to save another life. They also reason that using stem cells and disposing the embryo de-values humans and sets a bad precedence for further scientific procedures that will equally de-value life. The majority of the opponents are the religious groups who are pro-life and adamantly denounce embryonic stem cell research (Murnaghan 2010). Anti-stem cell research promoters also have the view that its approval would result into cloning, which just like nuclear technology, could be used for the destruction of human race, rather than its improvement (Masters, Palsson & Thomson 2007).
In conclusion, stem cell research is marred by a lot of controversy from the proponents of the technology who are of the opinion that it is beneficial to the human race, especially when the technology is embraced for medicine development, and the opponents who argue that it is immoral and unethical.