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Earlier this year a man was diagnosed with papillary thyroid carcinoma. A cancer that is more common in females than in males. Though a very common cancer, this one went untreated for years due to the fact that it was unknown that he even had it. Now you may be asking yourself, did the man do anything to cause the cancer? The answer to that is no, the man up until then lived a relatively healthy life. Cancer effects all of us is some way shape or form. You may know someone that is suffering right now. Someone very close to you, now what would you do if I told you that there could be a cure?

Well stem cell research is breaking ground in this area….. Did you know that stem cells are the source of at least some , and perhaps all cancers. What you’re going to learn from me today is exactly what stem cell research is, how it can potentially help in treating a range of medical problems that could lead us closer to cures, the facts about the embryo’s used, and what we can do to support stem cell research. What exactly is stem cell research about? Did you know that stem cell research has been around for over 30 years now?

According to “Stem Cells for Dummies” the book, stem cells are primitive or unspecialized cells that can help in tissue repair and rejuvenation. When they divide, stem cells have the potential to become any type of cell needed, such as brain, blood or muscle cells, this is what makes them different from other types of cells. There are a couple of different stem cells however, adult stem cells and embryonic. Different kinds of stem cells have different abilities and limitations. Adult stem cells can reproduce themselves and create specific types of cells, but how flexible they are still remains a question.

Embryonic stem cells appear to be the most flexible, able to grow indefinitely in the lab and give rise to all the cell types in the adult body. Let’s explore adult stem cells a little bit. Adult or tissue stem cells are usually multipotent, meaning that they can give rise to some or all of the cell types in their home tissues. Adult stem cells can reproduce themselves, or self-renew, but up until recently they were thought to do so to a more limited extent. These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow, placentas and umbilical cords.

Until recently, it was believed that adult stem cells could only create similar types of cells. For instance, it was thought that stem cells residing in the bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells. However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be more versatile than previously thought and able to create unrelated types of cells after all. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create muscle cells. This research has led to early-stage clinical trials to test usefulness and safety in people.

Now let’s talk about embryonic stem cells; the heart of the debate; when I say the word embryonic, what springs to mind? A mental picture of a fetus? This is what most people think of. However, at the point when human embryonic cells are collected for research, they haven’t yet formed what most people think of when they hear the word embryonic or embryo. Embryonic stem cells are called embryonic because they’re resultant from the very earliest stages of embryonic development – before the cells begin to differentiate or become specialized as muscle cells, blood cells, nerve cells etc.

Embryonic stem cells are derived from blastocysts. Blastocysts are a cellular mass formed during the development of mammalian embryos. The mass is divided into an inner and outer cell mass, and consists of about 150 cells. This stage of development occurs before implantation. Embryonic stem cell research is performed using embryos that are typically only 4-6 days old. These are pluripotent stem cells, meaning they can divide into more stem cells or they can specialize and become any type of body cell.

Because of this versatility, embryonic stem cells have the highest likely for use to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs in people. The embryos are generally products of in vitro fertilization that were not needed and have been donated, with consent of the donors, to research. Stem cell research can potentially help in treating a wide range of medical problems, and could lead us closer to cures in the future. According to the mayo clinic, stem cells have been used for years when it comes to certain things like bone marrow transplants in leukemia patients.

Though rough as this process is on the patient it more often than not works very well. Some other avenues that stem cell research is going down is skin grafting. When a patient gets mild to severe burns there is usually not enough skin to cover the person’s body, and they have to find another source, whether it be from the deceased, or from a pig. They can now grow skin in the lab from stem cells. The only problem with that is in quite severe burns they are finding out that the patient needs more than just the outer layer of skin; they need the foundation layers as well.

Yet another road scientists are driving down is the attack on cancer. Did you know that as many as four our every ten people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. What they are doing is stem cell transplants in order to treat cancer. In a typical stem cell transplant very high doses of chemo are used, often along with radiation therapy, to try to destroy all of the cancer. This treatment also kills the stem cells in the bone marrow. Soon after the treatment, stem cells are given to replace those that were damaged. These stem cells are given into a vein, just like a blood transfusion.

Over time they settle in the bone marrow and begin to grow and make healthy blood cells. This process is called engraftment. This is just scratching the surface; just imagine where we will be 10 years from now. Another breakthrough has already been proven in mice and rats that neurological disorders can be reversed with stem cells. Dr. McKay and colleagues of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), was able to take a special type of stem cell from rat embryo’s and successfully treat a Parkinson’s like disease in rats. They used neural stem cells that can only develop into nervous system cells.

Most of the test rats showed “about a 75% improvement in motor function 80 days after they received the transplants” that in itself is amazing. If we can do that with rats, just think about what we can do with humans. Not to mention therapeutic cloning, which would take people off the donor list at a much faster rate; no more waiting for the perfect donor. Did you know that Dr. Anthony Atala is at the forefront in our country in therapeutic cloning? He has now saved many lives with regenerative medicine. But there in lays another hot topic for debate. The problem is the ethical debate of embryonic stem cell use.

From the book “The Stem Cell Divide” by Michael Bellomo, in mid 2005 he interviewed an embryonic stem cell researcher, when asked “How do you deal with people who feel that you’re doing things that are morally and ethically wrong? ” “I don’t feel what I’m doing is morally wrong,” was the reply. “Is it immoral to use cells from embryos which would have been incinerated as discarded medical waste from a fertility clinic? Or is it moral to do nothing and allow human suffering to go unchecked when you know you could do something to stop it? ” How would you answer?

Let’s first look at all the facts. Most religious groups either supports or takes no official position on stem cell research today, contrary to what we’ve been told. Like I pointed out earlier, embryonic stem cells derive from in vitro fertilization treatments. Eight to ten blastocysts are created in a typical course of IVF, but only 1-2 are usually implanted at any one time. The excess are typically frozen and then thawed when needed. When couples decide to discontinue IVF treatments, the couple can choose to donate the blastocysts to research, or throw them away as medical waste.

Many people also believe that stem cell research will lead to human cloning. Not going to lie, this could happen in the future, we’ve already cloned many different kinds of animals, and there have been test tube babies, but the fact does remain that the scientific community is virtually united in its opposition to human cloning. Due to the fact that, at this point it just isn’t safe to do, besides the moral and ethical problems we obviously see with it. So what can we do to support stem cell research?

First of all you need to educate yourself on stem cell research, there are so many myths about this topic, and I can’t even begin to scratch the surface. Ensure that when you are researching stem cells, that it’s the most updated sources and that it’s a peer reviewed source, due to the fact that this they are finding out new things every day. Next you can educate others on stem cell research. People living with or caring for those with diseases understand why it is so critical that we find new cures. These people are the best advocates for funding stem cell research and for good state and federal laws to promote the research.

Industry professionals, professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students with knowledge of regenerative medicine can educate high schoolers across California about stem cell research. Next, speak up, if you see good, well composed stories about stem cell research, go online and post congratulations to the publisher. Most newspapers and magazines allow comments to stories online. While you are there, correct people who have posted wrong information. Don’t be afraid to do so. And last but not least, write your legislators, let them know that you support stem cell research. It’s time for your voice to be heard.

In conclusion, I hope that what you learned from me today was exactly what stem cell research is, how it can potentially help in treating a range of medical problems that could lead us closer to cures, the facts about the embryo’s used, and what we can do to support stem cell research. Remember the man I talked about at the beginning of my speech, well here’s a little update. The man lost his lymph nodes, and his voice box. He can no longer speak the way he used to. But because he has such a great attitude about everything, he’s going to live another 20 years or so, which I’m very grateful for, because that man is my father. Thank you!

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