IntroductionIntroductionStem cell research, one of the most exciting and controversial ethical issues in medicine today, continuously makes headlines with new developments. This topic concerns medical professionals, scientists, ethics forums, and even politicians, but many people do not know what to conclude from the controversy surrounding it. Dr. Elizabeth Crouch1, a genetics professor of the Biomedical Science Department of Texas A & M University, argues that it is vital that students entering medicine be educated about the ethical issues surrounding stem cell research. She explains:One of the things that you have to decide as an M.D. particularly surrounding stem cell research, is whether or not you support it, and then once you’ve decided that, you need to know both the pros and the cons so that if you had a patient that you were working with, for example an Alzheimer’s patient … you’d be able to present both sides of the issue, so that they can decide on their own. It is imperative that students who are planning to enter the medical field be well-informed about this issue so that they can begin to develop their own convictions about medical ethics, specifically regarding the stem cell debate. This report defines what stem cells, describes the different types of stem cell research and their potential role in disease therapy, and the presents the ethical controversy surrounding stem cell research. Stem Cell Research 1
Part 1: What are stem cells?Part 1: What are stem cells?CharacteristicsAn understanding of what stem cells are is essential to developing a position regarding the ethics of their use in the treatment of disease. Stem cells are cells at the earliest stage of development. The International Society for Stem Cell Research, a non-profit organization that promotes stem cell education and research2defines stem cells as the most basic cells for every body part, from tissues to organs. They have also been creatively described asblank computer chips, each with the ability to be programmed to carry out a specific function in the body.3Stem cells exhibit two definitive characteristics widely accepted by scientists today. First, stem cells have the ability to divide, or reproduce themselves, for long periods of time. Second, they are unspecialized but can become specialized by differentiating, or developing, into individual types of body cells.4Stem cells mature into specialized cells that will ultimately developinto tissues and organs when they are in the appropriate environment.3Types of Stem CellsThe three different types of stem cells are classified according to their place of origin. Embryonic Stem CellsThe most well known stem cells are embryonic stem (ES) cells. Thesecells are among the first elements present in the development of a human being. The single-celled zygote, created after fertilization, marks the beginning of a human life. It rapidly divides into two cells which divide into two more, and the process continues until about 150 cells are present about five days after conception.
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- Fall '14