The Future of Stem Cells: Opportunities at the Cutting Edge of Science

Stem cell technology representsone of the most fascinating and controversial medical advances of the past several decades. By now the enormous controversy which surrounded the use of federal funds to conduct scientific research on human stem cells during the George W. Bush administration has largely blown over. Five years have passed since President Obama lifted federal funding restrictions, and amazing progress has already been made in the field.

One can make a good case for stem cells being the most fascinating and versatile cells in the human body. This is precisely due to their stem role. In their most basic form, theyre capable of both replicating themselves an unlimited number of times and differentiating themselvesinto a huge number of other cell types. Muscle cells, brain cells, organ cells, and many others can all be created from stem cells. If youre interested, the NIH has an awesome introductionon stem cells on their website.

The question which has arisen since the discovery of thisamazing cell type has been how to harness their power and versatility. This is the primary focus of research today: how can we precisely control stem cells to perform whatever tasks we need them to do? Of course, other important issues, such as figuring out thebest places from which to harvest stem cells,exist.

Because of their role in the body, the number of potential applications for stem cells are truly stunning. From building custom cell clusters with 3D printers to curing a variety of diseases through bone marrow transplants, growingorgans for transplants, andeven growing edible meat, research is progressing at a frantic pace.

There are two particular areas of research which seem to hold the greatest promise at this point. The first is organs. Anyone who has ever been involved in an organ transplant knows how incredibly complex and difficult the process is. But difficulties like finding the right donor, preserving the organ, and finding enough supply to meet the incredible demand could all be overcome if we could simply use stem cells to grow a custom organ for each transplant from scratch.

Besides this perhaps science-fiction-sounding process of growing organs, theres also incredible excitement surrounding the potential of bone marrow transplants to cure diseases like HIVand Leukemia. This is done by implanting stem cells containing genetic mutations which confer immunity to a variety of diseases into a patients bone marrow, where they can begin naturally replicating and affecting the immune system.

Thisprocedurealso covers transplants designed simply to reintroduce healthy stem cells to help tackle a wider variety of ailments. Often, referred to as regenerative medicine as itinvolves stimulating the bodys preexisting repair mechanisms to help the healing process,thisprocedurealso offer great promise.

Naturally, the speed at which advances are being made in the field has led to problems as well. One recent well-publicized study which seemed to point to the possibility of achieving stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (essentially demonstrating a new type of stem cells) is now believedto have beenfraudulent.

The rest is here:
The Future of Stem Cells: Opportunities at the Cutting Edge of Science

Related Post