Stem Cells Potential Uses
A human embryonic stem cell is also defined by the presence of several transcription factors and cell surface proteins. The transcription factors Oct-4, Nanog, and SOX2 form the core regulatory network that ensures the suppression of genes that lead to differentiation and the maintenance of pluripotency.
The cell surface antigens most commonly used to identify hES cells are the glycolipids SSEA3 and SSEA4 and the keratan sulfate antigens Tra-1-60 and Tra-1-81. The molecular definition of a stem cell includes many more proteins and continues to be a topic of research.
After nearly ten years of research, there are no approved treatments or human trials using embryonic stem cells. ES cells, being totipotent cells, require specific signals for correct differentiation - if injected directly into another body, ES cells will differentiate into many different types of cells, causing a teratoma.
Differentiating ES cells into usable cells while avoiding transplant rejection are just a few of the hurdles that embryonic stem cell researchers still face. Many nations currently have moratoria on either ES cell research or the production of new ES cell lines.
Because of their combined abilities of unlimited expansion and pluripotency, embryonic stem cells remain a theoretically potential source for regenerative medicine and tissue replacement after injury or disease
While embryonic stem cell potential remains untested, adult stem cell treatments have been successfully used for many years to treat leukemia and related bone/blood cancers through bone marrow transplants. Adult stem cells are also used in veterinary medicine to treat tendon and ligament injuries in horses.
The use of adult stem cells in research and therapy is not as controversial as embryonic stem cells, because the production of adult stem cells does not require the destruction of an embryo. Additionally, because in some instances adult stem cells can be obtained from the intended recipient, (an autograft) the risk of rejection is essentially non-existent in these situations. Consequently, more US government funding is being provided for adult stem cell research.
Medical researchers believe that stem cell therapy has the potential to dramatically change the treatment of human disease. A number of adult stem cell therapies already exist, particularly bone marrow transplants that are used to treat leukemia.
In the future, medical researchers anticipate being able to use technologies derived from stem cell research to treat a wider variety of diseases including cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and muscle damage, amongst a number of other impairments and conditions.
However, there still exists a great deal of social and scientific uncertainty surrounding stem cell research, which could possibly be overcome through public debate and future research, and further education of the public. Stem cells, however, are already used extensively in research, and some scientists do not see cell therapy as the first goal of the research, but see the investigation of stem cells as a goal worthy in itself.
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