How Stem Cells Can Help Spinal Cords Essay

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Stem Cells

I just wanted to write you a letter letting you know a little bit about stem cells. I know the doctors have identified you as a good candidate for a trial using stem cell therapy, and -- since you asked -- I thought this would be a good opportunity to share with you what I have learned on this subject. Like all subjects, it can be simplified or made complex. I will try to strike a balance between the two extremes in this letter.

First off, stem cells are not like ordinary cells. When I say "ordinary" I mean the kind of cells you are probably used to thinking about -- cells that perform a special function -- like red blood cells (they carry oxygen through the blood stream). Stem cells are unspecialized. They have no physiological properties that define them per se. What they can do, however, is something quite special -- they can replicate. They are unique in the body because of this: they have the ability to self-renew. A red blood cell or a muscle cell cannot do that (Euro Stem Cell, 2012).

The great thing about science is that thanks to the scientific method, we have been able to identify different types of stem cells and make progress towards using them to help people with severe injuries overcome their injuries and become whole again. The scientific method is really a simple process -- but by following it great things can be discovered. The first step in the scientific method is to ask a question -- and you have done that by asking me about stem cells. The second step is to do background research, and that is what I'm helping you with here today. The third, fourth and fifth steps are to construct a hypothesis, conduct an experimental test, and to ask whether the procedure is working. More steps follow -- but before we get ahead of ourselves, let's turn back and finish up with the research stage.

The biology of stem cells is such that they are undifferentiated cells that can differentiate into specialized cells and through the act of mitosis can produce more stem cells. They are like the repair guys that you call when your house gets hit by a strong wind. They come with the tools and rebuild the house.
In adults like yourself, stem cells replenish tissue.

Now, there are two main types of stem cells -- embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Scientists in laboratories have worked on producing other types, such as induced pluripotent stem cells -- which are essentially rebooted adult stem cells that are made to act like embryonic stem cells. Amazing, right?

Stem cells can be retrieved from three sources: bone marrow, lipid cells and blood. Umbilical cord blood is one place from where they are taken, for example.

As for how stem cells would be used in your case, researchers have already supplied us with the answer. Clinical trials are underway around the world and one method that is attracting attention is the use of neural stem cell transplants -- these are stem cells taken from brain tissue that are used to produce each of the three main neural cells located in the central nervous system. Another type of stem cell that is being investigated is the mesenchymal stem cell, which can come from the bone marrow of the patient, and which are then injected into the spinal cord. These are just two types of trials being conducted today (Spinal Cord Injuries, 2015).

All of this research indicates that stem cells are helpful in rebuilding spinal cords after injury -- but more studies need to be conducted, of course -- and that is where you come in. You could make a significant contribution to the scientific method. Before we move on, however, let's talk a little bit about the pros and cons of stem cells and why there is some controversy regarding them.

The controversy that has arisen in the past regarding stem cell research is derived from the source of stem cells -- namely, pro-life advocates have protested the use of stem cells taken from human embryos, which raised ethical concerns about human life. Other concerns were raised when cells were taken from aborted fetuses, etc. Now, however, these controversies are less of a concern because scientists have learned to make adult stem cells act like embryonic cells.

Moreover, embryonic cells when injected can cause tumors because they begin producing cells in every direction, essentially. Moreover, there is risk that the immune system will reject them. Adult….....

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Euro Stem Cell. (2012). What makes stem cells unique? Eurostemcell. Retrieved from

Herberts, C., et al. (2011). Risk factors in the development of stem cell therapy. Journal of Transplant Medicine, 9: 29-36.

Lu, P. et al. (2012). Long-distance growth and connectivity of neural stem cells after

severe spinal cord injury. Cell, 150(6): 1264-1273.

Mothe, A. et al. (2013). Repair of the injured spinal cord by transplantation of neural

stem cells in a hyaluronan-based hydrogel. Biomaterials, 34(15): 3775-3783.

Sabelstrom, H. et al. (2013). Resident neural stem cells restrict tissue damage and neuronal loss after spinal cord injury in mice. Science, 342(6158): 637-640.

Spinal Cord Injuries. (2015). Eurostemcell. Retrieved from

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