Stem Cells: Could This Be The Cure For Cancer?

Stem Cells:

Could this be the technology to cure cancer?


Ali Ridha

Stem cells could be the greatest medical advance in history in the sense that most of our serious diseases can be cured. Stem cells have the potential to morph into other cell types in the body. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person is living. During mitosis, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of specialized cell, such as a muscle cell, or a red blood cell. (University of Utah, 2004; Viegas et al, 2003; Parson et al, 2004; Facts on File, 2004).

There are three kinds of stem cells in the body: Totipotent stem cells, which have the ability to morph into any kind of cell in the body. These are found in embryos undergoing their early stages. Another type of stem cell is pluripotent stem cells which have the ability to morph into almost any kind of cell in the body. These are found in a blastocyst which is the result of the embryo after 7 days after fertilization (University of Utah, 2004). They are enriched with pluripotent stem cells, which are constantly morphing into other types of cells in order to become a fetus. The last type of stem cell is multipotent stem cells or adult stem cells. These are found in fetuses as well as full grown adults. These stem cells can transform into most kinds of specified cells in the body, but their choices are more limited (Viegas et al, 2003). So why are these stem cells so important and how do they help cure cancer?

As of today, there is something called stem cell therapy which is used to treat diseases using stem cells (Munson et al 2002). The goal of stem cell therapy is to repair damaged tissue that cannot heal itself. This is accomplished by transplanting stem cells into the damaged area and directing them to grow into new healthy tissue (University of Utah, 2004). Some stem cell therapies used today are, adult stem cell transplants using bone marrow stem cells, peripheral blood stem cells and umbilical cord blood stem cells. Cell based therapy is just one way to cure cancer, not the only way. For example, let us take the treatment of leukemia, the cancer of white blood cells (WBC). In order to treat this disease, all the cancerous WBC and the existing ones are destroyed by chemotherapy while simultaneously, fresh bone marrow stem cells from a donor are injected into the bloodstream. If successful, the bone marrow stem cells will start morphing into new WBC (University of Utah, 2004). Umbilical cord blood stem cells are stem cells found in the cord blood. These function similarly to marrow stem cells, and they are less likely to be rejected. Their availability makes them a good candidate for this therapy (Mcconnaughey, 2004).

Other stem cell transplants are very similar to the treatment of leukemia. Basically, there is a source from where the stem cells are obtained from and then chemotherapy is administered to the patient, destroying his/her cancerous and normal cells. Immediately the stem cells are transplanted and the patient will recover within days or weeks. Currently, there is not a lot of stem cell therapies available. Stem cells cannot be used for patients with lung cancer, because we do not know which stem cells will morph into bronchial epithelial cells (cells that form lung tissue) (Saunders, 1994). Stem cells are obtained in many ways. Adult stem cells are easy to obtain n due to their presence in adults and children. Totipotent and pluripotent stem cells are harder to get, because the embryo is destroyed when taking the stem cells out of it. Scientists actually extract these stem cells by inserting a tiny tube inside the embryo and suck out the stem cells inside. This causes moral and ethical controversies. Human rights activists say that embryos will eventually become a baby and so, killing them is like killing a baby. Scientists counter by arguing whether embryos are humans in the first place. This dispute has not yet been settled,