A fetal stem cell is a cell that is harvested from a fetus and is considered useful because it has the potential to become any type of cell in the body. Stem cell research exists to determine ways to treat various conditions that require the addition of healthy cells to the body. The two types of embryonic stem cells most often studied are pluripotent, which are taken from young embryos, and hematopoietic, which are harvested from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. Conditions that benefit from fetal stem cell treatment range from injuries and degenerative conditions to burns and blood diseases. Stem cell controversy exists because some people worry that scientists will begin creating fetuses for the sole purpose of using the resulting fetal stem cells.
Pluripotent cells are often considered among the most useful types, because they can become any kind of cell in the body. These are most often harvested from the inside of an embryo that is only a few days old, and they continue to divide while the embryo is alive. Each division creates two more cells that are either fetal stem cells or organ-specific cells that may be found in the liver, skin or other areas of the body. Hematopoietic cells are taken from the umbilical cord blood after the birth of a baby. The typical fetal stem cell taken from the cord blood will likely create a blood cell, so the use of this kind is limited to curing blood diseases.
Stem cell research exists to figure out treatments for various conditions by replacing damaged cells with fresh cells. For example, degenerative conditions that include Parkinson's disease and arthritis may be treated with stem cells, because they can replace the affected cells. Stem cells also can often treat paralysis, injuries and burns, and they may even be used to create new organ tissue in some cases. While hematopoietic cells are considered less useful in the medical community, they can still be used to treat blood diseases, such as anemia and leukemia. For this reason, it has become common to store the cord blood after the birth of a baby so it can be used in the future, either by the baby or by someone else with a blood disease.
There is some controversy regarding the source of the fetal stem cell, because it is often taken from an aborted fetus. Thus, those against abortion often frown on this kind of medical research, especially when it is federally funded. In some cases, fetal stem cells are taken from extra embryos harvested for in vitro fertilization. While scientists argue that such embryos would be thrown out after the in vitro process anyway, some people protest this source of fetal stem cell based on the belief that scientists may begin creating embryos just to harvest the stem cells.