The Truth About Embryonic Stem Cells

The Truth About Embryonic Stem Cells

If you have any interest in stem cells, you may be familiar with the debate on embryonic stem cells. Stem cells have been researched since the mid-1900’s. While adult stem cells have proven to be safe and effective, embryonic stem cells are banned for human use in the United States.

As such, at the Stem Cell Orthopedic Institute, we exclusively use adult stem cells. For a complete description of our process, please visit our procedure overview.

While we do not use embryonic stem cells in America, it is important to remember how we got to this point to inform what choices we make going forward. Here’s the truth about embryonic stem cells:

What are embryonic stem cells?

Just like the name sounds, embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos. Most embryonic stem cells come from embryos that develop from eggs that were fertilized in vitro (in an in vitro fertilization clinic) and then donated for research purposes with the donors’ consent. These stem cells are not derived from the eggs that have been fertilized in a woman’s body.

Fertilization usually occurs in the oviduct. The few days after the embryo travels down the oviduct and into the uterus, a series of cleavage divisions will occur. The embryo is a ball of around 100 cells at this point (called a blastocyst).  The outer layer of cells forms the placenta and is called the trophectoderm. The cells during this stage are undifferentiated, which means that they do not look or act like the specialized adult cells, and they are not yet committed to becoming any specific type of differentiated cell.

The first differentiation event occurs at around five days of development – which is when an outer layer of cells separates from the inner cell mass (ICM). The ICM cells have the potential to generate any cell type, but once they have been implanted, they are quickly depleted as they differentiate into other cell types with limited developmental potential. However, the ICM cells can continue to multiply and endlessly replicate themselves, while maintaining the developmental potential to form any cell – only if the ICM is removed from its normal embryonic environment and cultured under proper conditions.

What makes embryonic stem cells important?

Embryonic stem cells have a never-ending lifespan with an almost unlimited developmental potential. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means that can grow into any one of the three primary germ layers: ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm. These cells have the potential to form any type of cell in the body, from muscle to nerve to blood. Embryonic stem cells provide endless possibilities for researchers.

How are embryonic stem cells being used for research?

In 2001, President George W. Bush allowed federal funding for limited embryonic stem cell research. However, President Barack Obama revoked that statement in 2009 and released Executive Order 13505 to remove the restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research. This allowed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fully fund research with embryonic stem cells. The NIH issued guidelines to establish the policy. These guidelines were created to help ensure that all NIH-funded research on human stem cells is morally responsible and scientifically relevant.

Embryonic stem cells are used for many purposes, from basic research to transplantation therapies for various diseases like heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, leukemia, and more. Since it is illegal to use human embryonic stem cells, researchers rely on mice and other animals for these cells. Stem cells have to potential to grow new cells to replace damaged organs or tissues, correct portions of organs that work improperly, research causes of genetic defects in cells, research how diseases occur or why certain cells develop into cancer cells and test new drugs for safety and effectiveness.

What is the dilemma with embryonic stem cells?

Research with embryonic stem cells (ESCs) is highly debated and many people have strong opinions about their stance on the issue. Many of the discussions lie around moral and ethical issues. The dilemma forces us to choose between two moral principles: the duty to prevent and alleviate suffering or the duty to respect the value of human life.

Let’s take a look at both stances. In order to obtain embryonic stem cells, you must destroy the embryo – also meaning that you are destroying a potential human life. On the other hand, embryonic stem cell research could help us find new medical treatments that could help alleviate or end those suffering from many disorders and diseases. The biggest question: which moral principle should have the upper hand? The answer ultimately depends on how you view the human embryo.

Embryonic stem cells also have a high oncogenic potential – meaning it is potentially cancerous. Since these cells have the possibility to transform into practically any cell, there is a possibility they can form tumors in patients.

Stem Cell Orthopedic Institute of Texas

At the Stem Cell Orthopedic Institute of Texas, we never use embryonic stem cells – only adult stem cells. Our patients’ health and safety is our priority. Rest assured, our doctors will give you the personalized attention you deserve. To learn more about our stem cell treatments or to schedule an appointment, call us at 210-293-3136.

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