Stem cell research | University of Maryland Medical Center

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A stem cell is a generic cell that can make exact copies of itself indefinitely. A stem cell has the ability to make specialized cells for various tissues in the body, such as heart muscle, brain tissue, and liver tissue. Stem cells can be saved and usedlater to make specialized cells, when needed.

There are two basic types of stem cells:

Potential uses for stem cells

There are many areas in medicine in which stem cell research could have a significant impact. For example, there are a variety of diseases and injuries in which a patient's cells or tissues are destroyed and must be replaced by tissue or organ transplants. Stem cells may be able to make brand new tissue in these cases, and even cure diseases for which there currently is no good therapy. Diseases that could be helped by stem cells include Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, and burns.

Stem cells could also be used to gain a better understanding of how genetics work in the early stages of cell development. This can help scientists understand why some cells develop abnormally and lead to medical problems such as birth defects and cancer. This might help scientists learn how to prevent some of these diseases.

Finally, stem cells may be useful in the testing and development of drugs. Because stem cells can be used to create unlimited amounts of specialized tissue, such as heart tissue, it may be possible to test how drugs react onsuch tissues before testing the drugs on animals and humans. Drugs could be tested for effectiveness and side effects more rapidly.

Controversy about stem cell research

In August 2001, President George W. Bush approved limited federal funding for stem cell research. While stem cell research has the potential to provide major medical advances, including cures for many diseases, stem cell research is controversial.

The stem cell controversy is based on the belief by opponents that a fertilized egg is fundamentally a human being with rights and interests that need to be protected. Those who oppose stem cell research do not want fetuses and fertilized eggs used for research purposes. However, a team of scientists have developed a technique that was successful in generating mouse stem cells without destroying the mouse embryo. This technique has not yet been attempted on human embryonic tissue. Many other scientists are attempting to create more universally accepted forms of human embryonic stem cells, as well as other types of adult stem cells.

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Stem cell research | University of Maryland Medical Center

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