Stem cell research can be classified into two specific areas: embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic stem cells. Amniotic, induced pluripotent, and adult stem cells do not involve the creation or destruction of a human embryo to have them collected.
Even embryonic stem cells can be collected, to some extent, without the destruction of an embryo. Modern collection techniques include using stem cells that are found in the umbilical cord, in breast milk, or even in bone marrow.
The primary benefit of stem cell research is its clear potential. Since 1868, the idea of using stem cells as a medical treatment has been contemplated in one way or another, especially as we began to understand their full potential. With stem cell therapies, we have the potential to treat injuries, degenerative conditions, or even a genetic disease or disorder.
As for the primary disadvantage of stem cell research, the ethics of collecting embryonic stem cells tends to dominate the conversation. To some people, the idea of destroying an embryo to harvest cells equates to murder. For others, they see the hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos, many of which are simply thrown away after being stored for too long, as wasted potential.
Here are some additional stem cell research pros and cons to review.
List of the Pros of Stem Cell Research
1. It could treat several conditions that are virtually untreatable right now.
Stem cell research opens numerous avenues for treatments or a cure to be found for several conditions that are either untreatable or without a cure today. Everything from Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s disease to ALS could be improved. People who have a spinal cord injury could receive an injection of stem cells and potentially start the recovery process. Even mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, could one day be treated with stem cell applications.
2. It provides us with greater knowledge.
By researching stem cells, we understand more about the growth process of humans. We learn more about how cells form and interact with one another. We can examine pluripotent cells, both induced and embryonic, to see what information is required for them to turn into a specific tissue cell. With a greater understanding of this micro-environment, we can learn more about who we are at our very core.
3. It offers new methods of testing.
When new medical treatments are proposed, they must go through multiple stages of testing. This includes animal trials and human trials, which may or may not be successful. As our knowledge of stem cells grows, we could transition testing methods so that only cell populations are examined for a response instead of an innocent animal or a paid human research contributor. That may improve safety, reduce fatalities, and even speed up the approval process.
4. It reduces the risk of rejection.
Many stem cell therapies today use the cells that are collected from a patient’s body. Because the cells are their own, the risk of rejection is reduced or even eliminated. If stem cells could be induced to form into organ tissues, such as a kidney, then the science of organ transplantation could be forever changed. Imagine growing a kidney that is a genetic match instead of trying to find a donor organ that could be rejected, even if a direct match is found. That is the potential of this medical research.
5. It could stop birth defects and mutations before they happen.
By understanding the process of stem cell development, it could be possible to change the embryonic development process. Chromosomal concerns, birth defects, and other errors in development could be corrected before birth, giving more newborns a real chance to experience the gift of life. At the same time, the risks of pregnancy loss and health risks to new mothers could be decreased.
List of the Cons of Stem Cell Research
1. We have no idea about long-term side effect issues.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, there are several common short-term side effects that are associated with stem cell therapies. They may include infection, bleeding, skin or hair problems, unexplained pain, organ problems, or even the development of a secondary cancer. Every medical treatment provides some risk of a side effect, but this medical technology is so new that we have no idea what the long-term health effects might be.
2. It provides a health risk to everyone involved.
Collecting stem cells from an adult carries a medical risk with it. Something could go wrong during the collection process that may reduce the quality of life for the patient. Their life could even be placed at-risk. For embryonic collection, the destruction of the blastocytes that are formed during egg fertilization is required. Since the embryo is technically a different form of human life, there will always be the chance of rejection occurring since the cells are not one’s own.
3. Adult stem cells offer limited potential.
Our current stem cell research findings indicate that adult stem cells that have already transitioned into specific tissues or formats because of their body location will stay that way. That means stem cells taken from muscle tissue would only be able to create additional muscle tissues. Even if they are induced to be pluripotent, the end result tends to be duplication instead of identification because they have a determined type.
4. It is still an unproven medical technology.
There is a lot of hope for stem cell treatments. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is performed about 50,000 times annually around the world and the success rate for the treatment is climbing above 90%. Because some forms of stem cell research are classified as illegal or immoral in the United States, however, progress to improve treatments or prove the effectiveness of this medical technology are not as advanced as their potential.
5. It isn’t cheap.
Stem cell therapies are far from affordable. Because most health insurers classify this type of treatment as “experimental,” it is rarely a covered procedure. Most treatments that are approved for use in the US cost more than $10,000 per procedure. Some treatment options are six figures. Even the cost of harvesting stem cells from an embryo is a couple thousand dollars. Access to this technology is restricted to socioeconomic means globally and to almost everyone in the United States.
6. Opportunities are limited.
Although stem cell research isn’t technically forbidden in the US, there are just 19 stem cell lines available for government grants and funding thanks to legislative restrictions that are enacted in 2001. Certain states have begun to draft legislation to completely ban stem cell research, or at least embryonic stem cell research, or at least place major restrictions on the process.
We should examine the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, but we should also examine the benefits it may provide. Adult stem cells, collected from consenting parties, should have no criticism whatsoever. As we move forward in this research, new pros and cons may also require additional contemplation. One thing is for certain: these stem cell research pros and cons show us that humanity is complex, beautiful, and wonderful in many ways.