What Are Stem Cells?

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stem cell, science, microscopeA big story over the weekend was that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first human clinical trial of embryonic stem cell therapy in the world, according to CNN.

Honestly, I didn't understand this news any more than I understand how to run my DVD player.

After reading four different articles, my take is that the FDA okay'd the use of embryonic stem cells for a handful of people with severe spinal cord injuries--meaning, people who are paralyzed. These people who agreed to be in the study will receive stem cell injections that might help their bodies and brains communicate again--meaning, they hope to be able to move more or maybe even walk. When these stem cells were given to rats who'd lost control of their hind legs, the rats were able to walk and run again.

We hear a lot about the hot button topic of stem cells. But the issue is really confusing. Here's what I gathered from CNN and other online sources.

Just what are stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells have the potential to turn into any organ or tissue in the body. Stem cells have this ability for a very short time. Just a few days before the embryo would implant, it starts to develop into specific cells that will turn into skin or eyes or other parts of a developing fetus.

Where do stem cells come from?

Researchers use embryos that have been created in fertility clinics by taking an egg that is fertilized in a petri dish. Stem cells are not removed from embryos that have been conceived naturally. The embryos used for research are not intended for making a baby, and researchers have to get consent from the parents in order to use their fertilized eggs for study.

When the embry is four or five days old, scientists extract the stem cells and put them in a petri dish. Upon removal of these cells, the embryo is destroyed. This is why some people oppose this research.

Why are scientists so determined to do research with stem cells?

This is a study of regenerative medicine. Besides patients with spinal cord injuries, stem cell therapies could benefit people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis.

Why are politicians so involved?

They have their own ideas and beliefs. George W. Bush limited stem cell research in 2001. Barack Obama has declared his support of stem cell research.

The group All About Stem Cells has a wealth of information, including new developments in the science of stem cells. It's carefully monitored for factual stats.

CafeMoms were vocal about the stem cell news over the weekend. You can see some responses on How Do People Feel About Stem Cell Research? in the Answers section.

How do you feel about stem cell research?

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