Stem cells are a key component in the medical world these days. Many researchers believe that stem cells will be the most important factor in curing diseases within the next few decades. There are many different types of stem cells. One of the most common that most people know of would be embryonic stem cells. These are cells taken from a human embryo, and have the potential to form any sort of cell, such as a blood cell, a skin cell, or even a liver cell. Another type of cell would be an adult stem cell. These are cells that already have a function, like a skin cell, and can become more of the same cell. The last kind of stem cell would be a semi-pluripotent stem cell. These are cells taken from any place, usually from bone marrow, and they can be reverted to their original stem cell state and can then become any sort of cell (Saturday Evening Post 2010). Most researchers agree that there is the most use for semi-pluripotent stem cells because they are the easiest and cheapest to harvest as well as the least controversial.
Although many researchers believe that embryonic stem cells might have the best chance of becoming cures because they are more elastic, meaning they can be adjusted and manipulated with a better chance of not breaking, they also agree they could cause the most potential damage in other ways. For example, many people believe that embryonic stem cells could cause an exploitation of women, especially women in third world countries. In order to use stem cells you need a “second party” stem cell. It has to come from another source without the “disease” you have. This could cause people to “order” stem cells from another person, and could potentially lead women to be exploited for their eggs. Other risks concerning embryonic stem cells is that in order to harvest cells from a donor, they must be given hormones that cause them to produce a larger amount of eggs, this can also cause potentially dangerous side effects, and on occasion, fatal ones. A United Kingdom newspaper called “The Observer” wrote an article called The Cruel Cost of the Human Egg Trade which investigated occasions where women from Great Britain and even the US would travel to clinics in Russia or Ukraine to get eggs. In this particular case the eggs are used for infertile women to get pregnant, but many sociologists are concerned embryonic stem cells will only fluctuate this growing “egg trade”. You see, in the UK there are rules and regulations for donating eggs, regulations concerning the amount of hormones given to any one woman, and there can’t be any sort of monetary compensation for the eggs either. This can make human eggs few and far between causing them to be expensive and the waiting list to be about two years long. Because of this, many women travel to other countries to have cheaper and much more abundant eggs implanted, so there are no importation infringements and everybody’s happy right? Well maybe not. The women in Ukraine and Russia have the unique opportunity to be egg donors for heartbreaking reasons: they are white and poor. Most people agree these are not the best reasons to base a trade on. Most of these women are living on less than $15 dollars a month and are in desperate need of money. The clinics however often exploit these circumstances paying them based on the health of their eggs and how many they can produce, if they turn out to be a good donor, they get a bonus. Among the many problems with these circumstances is that the women are given no psychological compensation. Many of these women suffer from great psychological distress, they feel that they have given part of themselves away and are never given any mental support because of it (The Observer 2006).
Other common discredits for embryonic stem cells is simply the human risk of having your ovaries stimulated so you produce extra eggs. If you are given too much follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, it can cause ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS). This can lead to dangerous, even fatal side effects.
Besides obvious physical side effects another problem with embryonic stem cells is that they cause such a debate over the ethics of them that many people think it’s just not worth it. In 2001 president Bush limited funding on stem cell research saying “While we must devote enormous energy to conquering disease, it is equally important that we pay attention to the moral concerns raised by the new frontier of human embryo stem cell research. Even the most noble ends do not justify any means” (Bush 2001). Because of this, embryonic stem cell research has been slow over the last few years, causing an increase in research on semi-pluripotent stem cells. Because of this, many researchers are beginning to have new appreciation for the benefits of semi-pluripotent stem cells and are losing some of their interest in embryonic stem cells. Although President Obama has lifted those funding limits, semi-pluripotent stem cells have remained in the forefront of stem cell research and researchers have surprisingly found some advantages. Not only are ethical concerns raised concerning embryonic stem cells because it destroys the embryo, but because one of the most common places to get embryonic cells is from aborted fetus’. This causes many people to be concerned with embryonic stem cells because they believe it will lead to more abortions as people might like to make money off of their aborted fetus’ and perhaps more of a political and scientific push to make abortion legal so stem cell clinics can get the cells legally.
For one thing, semi-pluripotent stem cells are cheaper than embryonic ones, because it cuts out the hormone injection process, then the actual removal of the eggs from the woman’s oavaries, whereas with semi-pluripotent stem cells, although they still must harvest the cells it is cheaper and easier to simply remove them from bone marrow the same way donors donate bone marrow for leukemia patients.
Although people may say that embryonic stem cells have more potential or we have more success cases with embryonic stem cells, they need to remember that semi-pluripotent stem cells have not been researched as long as embryonic stem cells. Really they were not even considered for a while until funding on embryonic cells was cut. Semi-pluripotent stem cells have their fair share of success cases too. In one study done by Northwestern University, a 52 year old woman with rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks you joints and is considered incurable, was injected with semi-pluripotent stem cells from her sister’s bone marrow into her own bone marrow and within a year was cured of her rheumatoid arthritis and was off all medications. She went through all of this with only minor complications (Arthritis & Rheumatism 2004).
Many people agree that embryonic stem cells may have some of their own advantages, but come along with their fair share of disadvantages as well. They can cause controversy, disease and even death. They induce and exploit the human body and fuel fires of debate many would rather do without. Although every person is entitled to their own opinion, I hope that many would agree that embryonic stem cells have their purpose, but one of them may not be to cure diseases however great that sounds. There are better and safer alternatives, alternatives I hope we continue to look into further.