Before talking about embryonic stem cells, first you should know about the stem cells. Stem cells are the cells that can divide indefinitely and make its number of copies. These cells have the ability to form differentiated cells of a particular tissue of the body such as liver cell, brain cell, blood cell etc.
Stem cells that find in different parts of the body are called as adult stem cells or somatic cells. These may be called as non embryonic stem cells. And the stem cells that derive from an embryo are called as embryonic stem cells.
Initially scientists used mice embryo for deriving these embryonic stem cells. In 1981, some scientist worked on mice embryo and gets these embryonic cells.
This work gave them a way to derive embryonic stem cells from human embryo. Now you must think that why scientist focused on these embryonic stem cells, so it’s because of the pluripotency of these cells.
These embryonic stem cells are considered as pluripotent cells. Pluripotent cells can form all types of body cells whereas formation of specialized cells from adult stem cells is limited. But these adult stem cells can be altered to get the characteristics of embryonic stem cells and these altered cells are called as induced pluripotent stem cells.
Due to the pluripotency of the embryonic stem cells, scientists can form any types of body cells that may help them for research point of view.
They can also use these cells for medical purposes such as how a drug affects a specific organ of the body? By researching on these cells they may get an idea how a specific type of disease caused in the body? These stem cells can replace injured or damaged cells with the new one.
Microscopic view of embryonic stem cells
Scientists can compare the gene sequence of different cells with these embryonic stem cells and find the variations in the cell, that’s why these embryonic stem cells can also help in curbing the genetic disorders.
Research on these cells can be helpful for the scientists in detecting the function of a particular gene. This detection may help them in manipulating the function of a gene in genetic defects. Scientist manipulates the gene function through the genetic engineering.
Embryos that are made by In Vitro Fertilization can also be used for deriving embryonic stem cells. When these cells are taken away from the embryo, then that embryo can not be further developed or we can say it is totally destroyed.
That’s the major issue before the scientist due to which some people think it’s unethical. And an embryo that is developed by the IVF technique can only be used with the consent of the couple concern or if any couple donates his embryo for the research purpose.
Scientists know the power of the embryonic stem cells but some ethical barriers stop them in doing so. But let’s imagine if these embryonic stem cells really work like a scientist think then it will be a great discovery for the scientists.
What is embryonic stem cell research
Research done on embryonic stem cells is called as embryonic stem cells research. An embryo that is developed from in vitro fertilization technique is used for embryonic stem cell research. Embryo developed inside the woman’s womb is not used for this purpose.
These embryonic stem cells can set new therapies in the medical fields; however research on these cells is still controversial. Because if we look ethically then it is inhumane for someone to destroy an embryo or we can say a new life.
Adult stem cells can be obtained easily without any immoral issues and it is not harmful for any life. Different regulations are set by the different countries for embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research is allowed in:
- Netherland etc.
But this research is restricted in:
- Italy etc.
Some countries have banned reproductive cloning but allowed therapeutic cloning such as India, Israel, South Korea etc. Different centers are set up in many countries for supporting embryonic stem cell research. By the above image you may better understand the situation of embryonic stem cells research globally.
These embryonic stem cells have the ability to cure genetic disorders or some serious diseases such as:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Myocardium infections
- Arthritis etc.
This embryonic stem cell research helps in determining the abnormalities in particular cell type. Protecting or saving someone’s life through this research is good but by killing an embryo, it may not be good because according to some ethicist, it as against the humanity and is totally unethical.
But some people support embryonic stem cells research because according to them these embryonic stem cells have derived from the immature embryo so how can it be immoral?
Everyone has different point of view regarding the embryonic stem cell research. Some people argued that why should an embryo pay for it? That’s why this is the debatable topic for the people and always remains in controversy.
An organization is set on the international level for providing forum to many scientists regarding the stem cell research. This organization is known as the international society for stem cell research (ISSCR). This organization is set up in 2002 and it has its members worldwide.
This organization provides common platform to many scientist from different countries for exchanging their views on the stem cell research. Scientist also represents their latest research on the stem cells to government officials in this organization.
The ISSCR set some guidelines for the human embryonic stem cell research in 2006 to maintain the uniformity of the research with regard to the ethical, cultural and social values worldwide. These guidelines provide a transparency in the stem cell research. Some guidelines are also made for the use of animals in the stem cell research.
Scientists have to wok under these guidelines. All the research activities are monitored by the stem cell research oversight (SCRO) in this organization. Confidentiality of an embryonic stem cell is also maintained.
How are embryonic stem cells obtained
As you may understand by its name, embryonic stem cells are derived from the embryo. These embryonic stem cells are extracted from the embryo when it is about some days old. This early stage of embryo is known as blastocyst.
In this stage an embryo consists of two parts: outer layer of cells is known as trophectoderm and inner cells form inner cell mass. Embryonic stem cells are derived from these inner cells mass (ICM).
Some of the inner cells are stem cells that can be extracted for research purpose. As I told you that embryonic stem cells are first derived from the mouse embryo by the scientists. Mouse blastocyst is used for extracting embryonic stem cells.
If the inner cells nurture in culture medium then these cells can be grow in laboratory. Generally these cells divide inside the embryo and called as embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can divide into indefinite numbers and can form specialized cells.
These mouse embryonic stem cells are used for medical purposes. Mouse embryo from which we extract the embryonic stem cells can be further developed into the mice body by injecting the embryonic cells. After this the pup developed from that embryo has the characteristics of both host and injected embryonic stem cells.
Due to this, mutation is found in the new mouse body. This newly born mouse is called as chimera having altered genes. Scientists used these chimeras for studying the genetic diseases in the human body.
For example if the genes that are responsible for causing cancer to a person then the mice is altered with that genes and is used for studying the effects of various drugs on that cancer causing genes. They may get an idea how cancer caused in human body and how can they cure or prevent it?
This step of deriving embryonic stem cells from mouse blastocyst is a pioneer for the embryonic stem cells research. After this scientist also derived these cells from the human embryo with the same method. But injecting the embryonic stem cells back into the human blastocyst is not allowed because it may risky for the host life.
But after extracting these cells, scientists can culture them in laboratory or may form a number of copies and they can form specialized cells such as nerve cell, blood cell. Brain cell etc. from these unspecialized cells. Scientists may then briefly investigate the cause of disease in those particular specialized cells.
Embryonic stem cells can also be obtained through the IVF technique or we can say embryo that is developed from the IVF technique can be used for deriving these embryonic stem cells but only by the consent of the donor.
Some couple also donates embryo for research purpose. But destroying an embryo is still debatable. Some couple donates embryo willingly for the research but still an embryo is killed in it so how can it be ethical?
Spare embryo is also provided by the fertility centers for research purpose. These embryonic stem cells can also be derived from the SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) technique in which nucleus of adult skin cell is introduced into unfertilized egg and a blastocyst is formed, through which embryonic stem cells can be derived. This is also be called as cloning.
Dolly sheep is also developed through this cloning method.
What is embryonic stem cell controversy
Embryonic stem cell is an ongoing debate. People protest it by calling it inhumane. Someone finds it immoral and some as moral. It is unethical because it destroy a life by killing the embryo.
Killing an embryo is like an abortion. Initially there is only the way to derive pluripotent cells from the embryo but today there are many alternatives that need not to destroy any embryo for the research.
Embryonic stem cells are found in all mammals and these cells have the potential to differentiate into a specialized cell type that can cure diabetes, stroke, heart infections, brain injury etc.
In America firstly G.W. Bush set a federal for such kind of stem cells but people made fun of him for this action. They called it unethical, totally non scientific. But this action of G.W. Bush is also supported by the latest president of America Obama in 2009.
And now the condition is that many embryos have been killed for the research in America by paying aforesaid dollars but this technique didn’t work because the research didn’t fully satisfy the scientists. It seems failed to cure any genetic disease.
This is the reason that paralyzed the debate. Instead of embryonic stem cells, scientists are successful in curing the genetic disease through the adult stem cells in which they do not require to destroy any embryo .Disease that successfully cures through the somatic cells are arthritis, blindness, and diabetes.
After all this, a Japanese scientist employs a new method of transforming adult stem cells into pluripotent cells. This is the best way of getting embryonic stem cell without destroying any life. Also the chance of rejection is less in this method.
SCNT technique can be used for this purpose and the best part of it is stem cells are from the same person or patient. This technique of deriving embryonic stem cells through SCNT has settled down controversy to some extent but it is not fully stopped due to the same ethical issues.
According to my views if we have an alternative of embryonic stem cells, so why should not we opt for it after all it is not taking anyone’s life. It’s good to find many ways for curing the incurable disease but we don’t have the right to kill anyone.
If we can not give life to anyone so how can we take it? Many people think that human life is a gift of god and no one can ruins it. It is against the humanity and it also reduces or harms the value of a human life. It may decrease the standards of human life amongst the people.
However we may use somatic cells for this purpose because it is not harmed anyone sentiments. And it is also proved that somatic cells are better for therapeutic treatments and it can also be induced into embryonic stem cells.
If scientist wants to research on the embryonic stem cells so they can take help of induced pluripotent cells without killing any embryo.