Stem Cell Research: Human Cells Structures Case Study

Stem Cell Research: Human Cells Structures Case Study


            Larson (2021) posted an article in The Washington Post describing a recent stem cell research where scientists used human cells to create structures that resemble the early developmental stages. According to the article, two different teams of researchers created embryo structures using human stem cells. Human development is a complex process, and these novel research studies have opened a new area of stem cell research. Previous studies have only been completed using mouse cells. Two types of human cells were used in both studies: reprogrammed skin cells and embryonic stem cells. While the structures created by the scientists resemble blastocysts, the researchers stressed that they are not equal to blastocysts. Besides, they are unsure of the developmental outcomes of the structures that they call human blastoids or iBlastoids. The researchers also explained that the blastoids are less efficient when compared to human embryonic cells. Fertility clinics donate the blastocyts used by researchers in this field. The researchers emphasized that their cells are not meant for human reproduction since no implantation takes place.

Scientific Background

            The study of animal embryonic stem cells has been in existence since the 1980s (Farajkhoda, 2017). Stem cell research is a required field that provides an understanding of human development and differentiation. Stem cell research also offers hope for the treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes. Pluripotent stem cells are present in both embryonic and adult tissues (Zakrzewski et al., 2019). Totipotent stem cells can differentiate into cells of the whole organism, which means that they can differentiate to form both embryonic and extraembryonic structures. A zygote is an example of a totipotent cell, which develops to become a blastocyst (pluripotent).

Pluripotent stem cells have the potential to differentiate into any type of specialized cells, hence their significance. However, they can form cells of the germ layers, but not extraembryonic cell structures. Embryonic stem cells are an example of pluripotent stem cells. The hematopoietic stem cell, which forms different blood cells, is an example of a multipotent stem cell. The differentiation spectrum of multipotent stem cells is narrower when compared to totipotent or pluripotent cells. Oligopotent stem cells have a narrow differentiation ability, but they divide repeatedly, making them useful in regenerative medicine. Oligopotent stem cells differentiate into several cells. For instance, the myeloid stem cell differentiates to form white blood cells only tissues (Zakrzewski et al., 2019).

The study of stem cells has created an opportunity for better understanding of the complex human development process. The usefulness of stem cells in therapy depends on their ability to be converted to any desired cell type. Stem cells contain loosely arranged DNA, and during differentiation, the required genes are kept active, while those that are not needed are shut down. Therefore, through this understanding, it is evident that cancers or congenital disabilities occur due to improper differentiation. Hematopoietic stem cells have been studied for decades, and they are helpful in stem cell therapy. For instance, Multipotent hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation has been used to treat blood disorders such as anemia and leukemia (Zakrzewski et al., 2019).

Bioethics Issues

While stem cell research is exciting and forward-looking, the use of human stem cells is controversial from an ethical perspective. The use of embryonic stem cells is characterized by an ethical dilemma. Informed consent of gametes’ donors and the embryos themselves is a significant ethical issue related to stem-cell research. Informed consent is a crucial part of medical research. Obtaining informed consent for embryonic stem cells is difficult because researchers use embryos from fertility clinics in most cases. Currently, it is unclear who should obtain consent and who should give consent. However, it is imperative to note that consent to use embryos in stem cell research should be obtained from the gametes donors.

            The utilitarian argument stipulates that embryonic stem cell research has potential benefits for society. This argument only focuses on the rights of sick individuals. Those who prohibit the use of embryos in stem cell research advocate for the rights of embryos. The principle of non-maleficence also applies to this case since embryonic stem cell research involves harming and destroying a human embryo. The unclear criteria of defining personhood make embryonic stem cells research more controversial. Therefore, it is impossible to determine when personhood begins since a fetus and an embryo are considered humans (Nwigwe, 2019). The use of stem cells to develop treatment options for chronic conditions violates the principle of beneficence. All humans have a right to be regarded as autonomous; hence killing embryos to obtain stem cells is a disregard for embryos’ rights. Additionally, gamete donors have an autonomous choice to make hence the need for fully informed consent. Also, embryonic stem cell use predisposes the human race to tumor development, which violates the principle of non-maleficence.

Two Sides of the Arguments principle of be

            As with any other ethical dilemma, there are proponents and opponents, and each group presents valid arguments. It creates an opportunity for those involved to choose between the duty to alleviate or prevent suffering and the duty to respect the value of human life. When conducting stem cell research, it is impossible to respect the two moral principles. For an embryonic stem cell to be obtained, the embryo must be destroyed. The use of human embryos to expand knowledge and reduce human suffering is accompanied by profound questions about the status of the embryo (Weiss et al., 2013). On one side, some view human embryos as morally equivalent to humans. Therefore, the embryo contains the identity of an individual. The human embryo has potential; hence interfering with its dignity is considered the abuse and exploitation of the human race. Besides, creating human embryos in research is viewed as life manipulation, which undermines human dignity (National Research Council, 2005).

While arguments against stem cell research take a moral ground, conducting research to heal the sick is a moral obligation. More importantly, using stem cell research to restore natural functions and health promotes human dignity (National Research Council, 2005). Stem cells can be used in the treatment of debilitating conditions by replacing damaged cells with new cells. Stem cells can benefit people with various diseases, including cancer, burns, osteoarthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Another way stem cells can be used to reduce human suffering is by providing dg developers with an opportunity to test the safety and efficacy of drugs before using them on people (Mayo Clinic, 2019). Also, stem cell research provides researchers with an understanding of how diseases develop, thereby creating an opportunity to develop life-saving treatments.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Stem cell research gives hope for regenerative medicine. This is because these cells can differentiate into almost any tissue type. Culturing these cells in specific media may lead to the development of tissues that can be used to treat nerve injuries and heart diseases, among others. Despite the associated potential revolutionization of medicine through stem cells, the clinical application of these cells is currently uncertain. Considering the ethical dimensions associated with the use of embryonic stem cells, researchers should conduct research while in collaboration with ethics committees. Bioethics researchers should also respect human rights in research. Society must recognize the potential of stem cell research. Instead of prohibiting this revolutionary, oversight institutions should be related to ensure that stem cell research aligns with the set moral standards.