Beating Death

At Priestley College, there is a class called the Graduate for academically gifted pupils to attend. In one week of the Graduate we were asked to write a short article to do with a profession we would be interested in or a university Course. The article I wrote was there for linked to medicine and I chose to write about the applications of stem cells and the benefits and draw backs of using them. Here is the final article:

Beating death

By Dom Crawley-(Former Penketh High School)

Speculation as to the age a human can live, is never ending and many recent developments in clinical sciences may prolong death for future generations. However is it actually possible to overcome death completely? Stem Cell research is a very controversial topic and many people have their opinions on the ethical and moral dilemmas it produces, however in the future is it possible that stem cells could lead to immortality.

A Stem Cell is an undifferentiated cell that can develop into more cells of the same type or differentiated cells with different functions. Many of the organ systems which allow more diverse life to develop, are extremely complicated and it’s not feasible for a single cell to be responsible for every process. Therefore, cells differentiate or specialize. The process of cell differentiation leads to the development of muscle cells, brain cells, lining cells and red blood cells.

There are two types of stem cells. Adult Stem Cells are partially committed to a differentiated cell and therefore can only develop into that cell. For example adult stem cells found in muscles will only develop into muscle cells. However there are also embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are advantageous in that they can develop into numerous other cells. This means that a single cell could be used to treat any number of conditions including baldness, muscular dystrophy, a myocardial infarction, rheumatoid arthritis, or crohn’s disease. Also, it is believed that advancements in embryonic stem cell research would likely improve our knowledge of Cancerous tissues and how tumours develop improving our ability to treat it. Embryonic Stem Cells are very similar molecularly and show similar functional characteristics to Cancerous Stem Cells. Stem Cells offer a solution to unwanted pregnancies and embryos developed in fertility clinics. Often couples may only want one child but several embryos are produced to increase the chances of producing a viable embryo. However this often leads to multiple embryos being left unwanted. These can either be destroyed, donated to other couples, put into storage or donated to science. Many people cannot afford to store the embryos, do not want another couple to raise their offspring and do not wish to destroy the embryo. However most fertility clinics do not offer couples the option to donate their offspring to Science which most of them would like to. The embryo has been produced and destroying it is a waist. Therefore many people view donating embryos as the most ethical choice.

One of the disadvantages to embryonic stem cells is the way they are obtained. Usually harvesting embryonic stem cells involves the destruction of human embryos which means it’s very unpopular with the demographic who believe life starts with conception and abortion of any kind whether for scientific advancements or not is wrong.  Another disadvantage of embryonic stem cells is that our current understanding of them is very limited and the cells can divide uncontrollably leading to the formation of cancerous tissue.

Theoretically speaking however, they could elongate lifetimes by considerable lengths. The most common causes of death amongst those over 65, include Heart Disease, Cerebrovascular Disease and Alzheimers. Most of the natural causes of death for this age group are caused by reduced organ function or degeneration of the immune system leading to the individual being more susceptible to common colds, and other common bacterial or viral infections. Embryonic Stem Cells could differentiate to form cardiac muscle reducing risk of a myocardium and myocardial infarctions. They could also differentiate to form different white blood cells reducing immune system degeneration. Improved understanding into the structure of embryonic stem cells would also improve our ability to treat cancer which is another condition very prevalent in the over 65 demographic. Stem Cell development could ultimately reduce all of these diseases and conditions from occurring thus increasing life expectancy and one day leading to immortality.

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