biology today. Like many expanding fields in scientific inquiry,
research on stem cells is raising scientific and ethical questions.
Stem cells have three important characteristics that distinguish them
from other cells. First, they are unspecialized, that is, they do not
have any tissue-specific structures that allow it to perform
specialized functions. These unspecialized cells can give rise to
specialized cells, including heart muscle cells, blood cells or nerve
Second they are capable of dividing and renewing themselves for long
periods through cell division called proliferation. In other words,
they can replicate many times unlike muscle cells, blood cells and
nerve cells which normally do not. These cells are capable of
continually reproducing themselves and can renew tissue throughout an
individual’s life. For example, they can regenerate the lining of a
gut, revitalize the skin and produce a whole range of blood cells. A
starting population of stem cells can proliferate into millions of
cells in a matter of months. If the cells stay unspecialized, they are
capable of long-term self-renewal.
Third, stem cells can give rise to specialized cells a process called
differentiation. Scientists are attempting to understand the signals
that trigger the differentiation in stem cells. These...
... middle of paper ...
...umber of important ethical issues.
For most, the resolution of these ethical issues depends to some
degree on the source of the stem cells. The use of cadaver fetal
tissue to derive EG stem cells is usually the most accepted. With
respect to ES stem cells, most draw an ethical distinction between the
two types of embryos. The first referred to as the research embryo,
an embryo created through IVF provided solely for research purposes.
Many have expressed that the federal government should not fund
research that involves creating such embryos.
The second type of embryo is created for infertility treatment, but is
now intended to be discarded because it is unsuitable or no longer
needed for such treatment. The use of these embryos raises fewer
ethical questions because it does not alter their final disposition.
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