Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have two defining properties: the ability to differentiate into other cells and the ability to self-regenerate. The ability to differentiate is the potential to develop into other cell types. A totipotent stem cell can develop into all cell types including the embryonic membranes. A pleuripotent stem cell can develop into cells from all three germinal layers. Other cells can be oligopotent, bipotent or unipotent depending on their ability to develop into few, two or one other cell types. Stem cells are very diverse and can be used in many different aspects of research, therefore are very importnat to the human body.
Stem cells are cells that have the ability to grow into various kinds of adult tissue. Because of their potential to grow into organs and other tissues, stem cells can be used to help cancer patients, diabetes patients, and reverse the effects of cardiovascular/blood diseases, to an extent. Stem cells are controversial because they come from old embryos that aren’t going to be used by fertility clinics (with patients’ permission).
I would add that stem cell research is controversial because some attribute it to destroying the potential for that embryo to become a human being. However, stem cells come from embryos that are fertilized, but not conceived (attached to uterine lining and drawing nourishment). Some still might argue that that is a human, and so it is difficult to define whether or not we are dealing with an unethical situation. In the article below, the question of whether the future of a small cluster of cells 1/66 the size of a fly’s brain that does not register suffering should be preserved before that of a child or adult afflicted with a debilitating disease.
Just in case you’re a visual/audio learner (like me!), there are a lot of good, instructive videos on youtube explaining stem cells.
Here’s one I found to be simple but clear:
Also, National Geographic has a good, in-depth feature on stem cells, including a lot of multi-media information. See the link below.
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