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  • Writer's pictureKaylyn Kim

Stem Cells on Genetic Engineering

Written in March 2024 by Kaylyn Kim.

This excerpt attempts to inform readers on how stem cells are being used to advance genetic engineering, along with addressing some of the current controversies regarding this research.


Stem cells are uncategorized cells that can infinitely divide themselves and have the potential to become other kinds of cells. They can be found in the brain, bone marrow, skeletal muscles, and embryo.

Mentioning embryos, there are two main types of stem cells.

The first is embryonic stem cells. They are created through a process called in vitro fertilization, which, to give you a brief overview, is a process that involves using the totipotent stem cells from an embryo for surgical purposes. Totipotent means that they have total potential to become any other kind of cell. Meanwhile, the other predominant cell type is adult stem cells; these are the ones that our body uses when you get your arm burnt and need extra skin cells to replace the damaged ones.

As mentioned previously, in vitro fertilization is the process of creating embryos in the laboratory. To walk you through the process, the sperm fertilizes the egg, and this forms a single, synthesis cell known as the zygote, shown in the image below.



Through mitosis, this zygote divides until it forms a blastocyst, which is a cluster of 150-200 cells. In the blastocyst, there is the inner cell mass consisting of totipotent stem cells. These can be taken out through electricity or chemicals.

Similar to vitro-fertilization, therapeutic cloning is another way of using embryonic stem cells. It involves taking an egg from a donor and a skin cell from a patient. Then, the doctor/surgeon/scientist can remove the DNA of the egg and replace it with the DNA of the patient’s skin cells. Through chemicals, the embryo dies, but the stem cells survive, which is then inserted into the patient.

Earnest McCulloch and James Till were the true pioneers of stem cell research. In the 1960s, they discovered how hematopoietic (blood-making) stem cells were able to convert into any other kind of blood cell. But President Bush, through the Stem Cell Enhancement Act of 2005, banned the funding of cell research by the government. In 2009, this ban was lifted by President Obama.

But why did these scientists want to learn more about stem cell therapy?

First, stem cell therapy can treat cardiovascular and blood-related diseases by replacing the cells damaged by the disease with new stem cells. One day, this might also help regenerate organs, which is critical since there are not a lot of organ transplants readily available in proportion to those who are sick.

Yet, there are many ethical implications to doing this. First, both vitro-fertilization and therapeutic cloning involve destroying a human blastocyst. So, research and development institutions face the difficult question, “When does life begin?” If, according to religion, life begins from conception, then using embryonic stem cells is essentially murder. But is it okay because these embryos are made in the laboratory and are not inserted into a woman’s body? Some pro-lifers support this since they believe conception is also relative to where development occurs. Hence, at the end of the day, religion and politics play a strong influence in answering this question. This is why institutions must provide informed consent and any information about the donors must be kept strictly confidential.

To conclude, how does stem cell therapy change our world? First, there is a correlation between aging and the number of stem cells in the body, so this can potentially lead to cures to delay aging. Second, there might no longer be a need for organ donors anymore. But ultimately, stem cell research will influence our generation and those who come after us. It can provide treatments for the diseases that 100 million Americans currently have.

So, today, I invite you to look briefly into stem cell research. After all, it could impact you, your family, or your future children one day.


 

Works Cited

Brazier, Yvette. “Stem Cells: Sources, Types, and Uses.” MedicalaNewsToday, 19 Oct. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323343#donating-and-harvesting. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.

Harvard University. “Stem Cells: A Brief History and Outlook.” Science in the News, 3 Jan. 2014, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2014/stem-cells-a-brief-history-and-outlook-2/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.

Lo, Bernard, and Lindsay Parham. “Ethical Issues in Stem Cell Research.” Endocrine Reviews, vol. 30, no. 3, 14 Apr. 2009, pp. 204–213, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2726839/, https://doi.org/10.1210/er.2008-0031. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.

Moradi, Mike. “Why Stem Cells Could Be the Medical Innovation of the Century.” World Economic Forum, 16 Jan. 2020, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/how-will-stem-cells-impact-the-future-of-medicine/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.

White, Deborah. “Arguments for and against Embryonic Stem Cell Research.” ThoughtCo, 24 May 2019, www.thoughtco.com/pros-cons-of-embryonic-stem-cell-research-3325609. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.


Image Citation

Dahal, Prashant. “Zygote- Definition, Examples, Formation, Development, Challenges.” Microbe Notes, 3 Aug. 2023, microbenotes.com/zygote/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2024.

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