The research area of stem cells in medicine is moving fast and there are endless possibilities of uses for stem cells in many different aspects of medical science.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are unspecialised and undifferentiated cells, meaning they’re not adapted to any particular function. Therefore, they have the potential to differentiate into any range of cell types in the organism.
This means that they are extremely useful and valuable in scientific research and in looking for future treatments, as the stem cells can be transplanted to different parts of the body to replace damaged cells.
Stem cells are already being used in various areas, such as in drug trials; before being tested on animals or humans, potential new drugs can be tested on cultures of stem cells. As well as that, stem cells grown on biodegradable mesh can produce new skin for burns patients, which is quicker than a skin graft.
They’re also being used to treat patients with leukaemia. Stem cells found in the bone marrow are transplanted into the leukaemia patients to generate new blood cells.
Stem cells can also be used to grow new cells in a laboratory to replace damaged tissues or organs.
Several weeks ago, I saw an article with the title ‘Scientists have discovered a new stem cell that could heal brain damage’. Called the “G2 quiescent stem cell” it’s one of several ‘sleeping’ stem cells in the brain. However, this particular stem cell is ‘showing a higher regeneration potential than others have .’ This newly discovered stem cell could help brains repair themselves from brain injury, or even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s. In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells (neurons) are destroyed because of the accumulation of abnormal proteins. When these dormant stem cells are awake, they can start producing neurons, which could potentially be used as a treatment.
This is based on a study of the small fruit fly, which shares many DNA similarities with humans. 
Despite the good signs, scientists are still unsure on how to ‘wake up’ these dormant cells, meaning actual treatments are still a significant way off. However, progress is being made all the time.
Other medical conditions that may potentially be treated with embryonic stem cells include:
- traumatic spinal cord injury
- severe burns
- rheumatoid arthritis
- heart disease
- hearing loss
- retinal disease
Stem cell research controversy
In recent years, there has been some controversy over how human embryonic stem cells are obtained. In order to obtain the stem cells, a human embryo must be destroyed. This induces ethical concerns for some people, as they believe that an embryo accounts for a human being and should not be destroyed in the name of scientific research.
Opponents of this argument believe that embryos are not yet human beings, and that the benefits of the research outweigh the issues surrounding the way that the stem cells are obtained.
By Jenna Philpott