Magic from Human Regenerative Technologies-Stem Cells: With Advancements in Stem Cell Research and Development, Tissue Engineering, or Regenerative Medicine, Many Ailments Are Finding Techniques for Improvement

By Ritz, John M. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, May-June 2012 | Go to article overview

Magic from Human Regenerative Technologies-Stem Cells: With Advancements in Stem Cell Research and Development, Tissue Engineering, or Regenerative Medicine, Many Ailments Are Finding Techniques for Improvement


Ritz, John M., Technology and Engineering Teacher


Many people suffer from chronic diseases and problems due to injury from accidents or ailments. Some problems, such as measles and cancer, can be cured or put into remission with time, medicine, or treatments. Other ailments, such as high blood pressure, failing kidneys, and cystic fibrosis, cannot be cured and require continuous use of medications or organ transplants. Many people are in need of organ transplants (113,075 in the U.S., with only about 1,000 donors per month giving organs or tissues to transplant) (UNOS, 2012). In addition, for those who receive transplants, there is a need to continuously receive antirejection medications to keep their bodies from rejecting the new organs. It seems that, for many, there is no cure to failing health conditions. The use of stem cells to aid in mending the human body will be explored with their possible uses, and the ethics associated with this technology will be analyzed. The medical community is using the term regenerative medicine and tissue engineering more and more because of the negativism some attach to stem cell research.

Stem Cells

The human body is an efficient machine, and many times self-corrects when it encounters medical problems. If one breaks a bone, it can heal itself, with the bone and tissue cells growing back together. Cuts and scrapes also heal themselves. When one catches colds or flu, the symptoms usually go away over time as the body's immune system takes over. When a human is created, it progresses from an egg and then grows and develops its organs and body structure. Scientists have explored the basic makeup of the growth and development of animals and humans. They have determined that there are several body cells that can reproduce and regenerate. Medical scientists and researchers are trying to better understand cell development in hopes of using our own cells to recreate tissues and organs that can be used to grow new organs and tissues if these become damaged. This growth from cells is planned to be used for correcting abnormalities as our bodies wear from use, age, disease, and viruses.

At the root of this research are stem cells. Stem cells are the basic cells that make up our bodies. They constantly reproduce (regenerate) within our body and can differentiate into other cells, hence being known as stem cells (the stem from which cells grow into body tissue and parts). They can grow and develop into skin, nerve cells, organs, and much more. Consequently, stem cells can form into many different types of cells and structures. This development and growth is known as differentiation (cells dividing and multiplying).

All plants and animals have stem cells. For this reason, much of the research into cell differentiation and development is done in animals, particularly mice. As cells develop, they communicate with each other to determine which cells to develop and how. This determines which cells develop into eyes, skin, bone, etc. The cell development has three layers. The endoderm (inner layer) differentiates to become cells that form into linings of the body cavity, including respiratory tract, digestive tract, and other inner organs. The mesoderm is the middle layer, which differentiates to become the circulatory system, bones, muscles, and connecting tissues. The ectoderm is the outer layer, and it differentiates to become skin, hair, nails, sensory organs, brain, and spinal cord (Figure 1).

Types of Stem Cells

Stem cells are classified into two main types: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells come from embryos that have developed from eggs that have been fertilized by male sperm or in a Petri dish in a lab by artificially inserting sperm into eggs (Kelly, 2007). Fertilized eggs can be used to harvest the embryonic cells that can be programmed genetically by human intervention to become any form of human body mass; e.g., skin, bone, organ. Embryonic stem cells have greater possibilities of repairing damaged human bodies because of their ability to be turned into any cell types, but their use can cause ethical issues in how they are obtained (fertilized eggs or aborted fetuses). …

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