Stem cell research uses particular cells found in the human body, umbilical cord, and embryos that can grow into different kinds of cells and divide rapidly in a laboratory setting. Their rapid growth makes them useful for research regarding possible disease cures and risk reduction of some conditions. Using human stem cells for research purposes is a topic of much debate and controversy due to the origin of the cells and the moral implications of certain types of research. Pros and cons of stem cell research are evaluated carefully by lawmakers and those in the medical community to decide whether to apply this type of research in a certain way.
One of the most frequently-discussed pros and cons of stem cell research is the potential for significant medical advances versus the source of the cells. Since stem cells divide quickly and can develop into different types of cells, they may be useful to repair cells damaged from cancer, spinal cord injuries, or other diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. Embryonic stem cells are extracted during the early stages of pregnancy, which destroys the fetus. This creates a moral debate between those who feel the potential of the research is worth the source, while others argue that life begins at the moment of conception and extracting stem cells in this manner is taking a human life.
While stem cells can be extracted from bone marrow, the process is lengthy and can damage the marrow. Cells extracted from umbilical cord blood during pregnancy provide a way for stem cells to be stored without risk to the mother or fetus. These cells are most easily usable by the mother, father, and other closely related family members, though they can be matched to others to decrease the risk that the patient's immune system will reject the cells.
Another large set of pros and cons of stem cell research is how the cells can be used safely. While research indicates a favorable outcome for patients who receive stem cell therapy for certain conditions, it is not known what the long-term effects of the process could be. Animal studies have shown that treatment with embryonic stem cells may contribute to brain tumors or the formation of cancerous cells if stem cells are used after long periods of storage.
Evaluating the pros and cons of stem cell research and determining where to draw the line is largely a matter of personal opinion. Using stem cells for research is still a relatively new area of medical research that may be subject to further government regulation in the future. Medical research companies who use stem cells must do so ethically and in accordance with regional laws.