Ethics of stem cell therapy
8 January 2022
Stem cells are the body’s raw materials — they are the cells that give rise to all other cells with specialised tasks. Stem cells divide to generate new cells called daughter cells under the correct conditions in the body or in the lab.
These daughter cells either self-renew or differentiate into specialised cells with a more specific role, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells, or bone cells (differentiation). No other cell in the body has the potential to produce new cell types on its own.
Why is there such an interest in stem cells?
So, researchers and doctors have been doing their research on stem cells since long. These research can help in better understanding of:
• How diseases are developed: They believe that by working on stem cells and watching them grow into a particular cell or a particular system can help them understand how a disease is developed or a condition is developed.
• Curing the diseases: Stem cells can also be used in regenerative medicine that is replacing diseased cells by healthy cells. Stem cells can be guided and can be regenerated into a specific cell that can help in particular disease or damaged tissues.
This particular therapy can help people with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, type 1 diabetes, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, stroke or even disease like cancer.
• Test new drugs: For safety purposes, stem cells can be used as a trial for new drugs rather than testing it on people first.
For example, if there is a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease, we can test the drug on stem cells that have been transformed into nerve cells and test whether it’s harmful or not.
What’s the ethical issue here?
There are some issues that researchers faces during the research oh stem cells, the roots of this problem is the source of stem cell. The sources of stem cells are bone marrow, peripheral blood and umbilical cord but the best source is Embryonic stem cells. It is a misconception that the actual sources of embryonic stem cell is either fetuses or aborted fetuses but in reality the only source of embryonic stem cells for research is in-vitro fertilization embryos. The left over embryos after the donors had used the originals are used. Some people find the use of embryos ethically wrong. The dominant issue was the moral states of the embryo. Why is that so? Because they think that doing a research on embryos, is destruction of the embryos and for some people it is equivalent to abortion and that is extremely problematic. The embryos that are used are 5-7 days old blastocysts and they are just little balls of cells. There are always left over embryos and the choice is either to throw them away or give them to research. And it is ethical to give the embryos for research so that they can work on new therapies. They can literally see heart cells beat in the petri dish, so giving away embryos for research will help scientists to work on new therapies in a petri dish and not on a patients.
• Volarevic, V., Markovic, B. S., Gazdic, M., Volarevic, A., Jovicic, N., Arsenijevic, N., Armstrong, L, Djonov, V., Lako, M., & Stojkovic, M. (2018). Ethical and Safety Issues of Stem Cell-Based Therapy. International journal of medical sciences, 15(1), 36-45.