Stem cells science holds great promise for medical research, possibly providing cures for conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and spinal cord injuries. But critics say using stem cells from embryos, even those newly created in a petri dish, is equivalent to taking human life, since embryos are destroyed when stem cells are removed.
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Stem cells can be found in embryos and adults.
Stem cells can be found in everyone. Theyre undifferentiated — which means, they arent specialized for any particular function in the body, unlike nerve cells, muscle cells and blood cells. The stem cells found in embryos are known as embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are found in the organs and tissues of our bodies.
All stem cells have the exact same potential to become any type of cell.
Embryonic stem cells are capable of becoming any cell in the body, while adult stem cells are capable of acquiring the functions of the tissue where they were originally found. So adult stem cells in the liver can become liver cells, while stem cells in the brain can become brain cells.
Stem cells are very limited in number and cannot multiply.
Stem cells are unique in that they can multiply and renew themselves for a long period of time, unlike muscle, nerve and blood cells. If you place embryonic stem cells in a lab dish, they can grow continuously for more than a year. Current federally funded research on stem cells is based on supplies of stem cells that were established in laboratories years ago.
Each embryo contains about 30 stem cells that can become millions of cells.
Stem cells are taken from embryos that are about five days old, when they are a mass of cells called a blastocyst. The inner mass of cells (about 30 of them) is grown in lab dishes to create stem cell lines, which are batches of millions of stem cells that can be used for testing and research.
Human stem cell cultures that are grown in the lab are started with mouse cells.
Human stem cells are grown in the lab by transferring the initial cells into a lab dish containing a medium that the cells can feed on. Typically the lab dish is coated with mouse embryonic skin cells that have been treated so they wont divide. The mouse cells, known as a feeder layer, give the stem cells something to latch onto, and also release nutrients into the medium.
Stem cells grown in the lab run the risk of being contaminated by mouse viruses.
Scientists have recently begun devising ways of growing stem cells without the use of mouse feeder cells. The current method runs the risk of transmitting viruses or other contaminants to the human cells from the mouse cells.
The human embryos used for stem cell research have been created specifically for that purpose.
According to the National Institutes of Health, which funds some stem cell research, the embryos used in stem cell studies were created in the lab for infertile couples trying to have children. The embryos were donated by the couples after they no longer needed them.
Human embryonic stem cells have been studied in the lab for decades.
Human stem cell research first began in 1998, when scientists were able to isolate stem cells from human embryos for the first time.
Adult stem cells have as much potential for curing diseases as embryonic stem cells.
Some uses for adult stem cells have been found, such as in the treatment of cancer. But scientists say that embryonic stem cells have more potential because they can become any type of cell, as opposed to adult stem cells. Some of the benefits that researchers think they might develop with embryonic stem cells are medical therapies that use stem cells to produce tissues and organs.
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