Stem cell research involves the use of stem cells to treat a diverse range of muscular, developmental, cardiovascular, brain, and other medical problems. Controversial by nature, stem cells are derived from the creation, destruction, and exploitation of human embryos. Though stem cells can be adapted from adult cells as well as taken from human embryos, the two sources provide stem cells that serve separate and unique functions, and both are needed for stem cell research to reach it’s full potential.
Stem cells promise a lot to the medical field because they possess the ability to develop into many different types of cells in the body. Stem cells use cell division to multiply limitlessly, and are distinct from other cells in that they are totally unspecialized. Being unspecialized means that a stem cell’s function can be decided based on need, giving stem cells the potential to replenish cells in the body of nearly any type – red blood cells, muscle cells, organ-specific cells, bone marrow, brain, skin, etc. This opens the door to curing countless diseases, defects, trauma, and ailments as research progresses. With adequate research, stem cells can help us understand how an organism develops from a single cell, how healthy cells replace damaged ones in adults, and what causes birth defects.
Stem cells have the potential to be particularly effective in treating type 1 diabetes. Most recently, experts have developed human insulin producing beta cells, the cells that diabetes destroys. While they still haven’t figured a way to prevent diabetes from attacking the stem cell generated beta cells, this is a giant leap forward in the cure for type 1 diabetes. This is just a glimpse into the potential that stem cells have to treat medical problems that were previously thought untreatable. With the potential to multiply through cell division and specialize into virtually any function, the possibilities for stem cell research are boundless.