Biotechnology incorporates the biological andtechnological competences that when combined produce a new and exciting fieldavailable where new research is dedicated. It has been defined by Thielman andPalladino as an interdisciplinary science that uses biological organisms ortheir products for the use or benefit of humankind. This discipline has beenseen to have a few roots in other scientific disciplines such as molecularbiology and computer science.
This science has now spread throughout many moredisciplines, so far so that it has applications in all throughout. With all the positive that surrounds this field it goeswithout saying that there are negatives associated with it. With the discoveryof new age applications such as plasmid recombination and the Human GenomeProject, these revelations could not have been borne without the use ofsomewhat questionable practices. One such application that has had its share ofscrutiny is Stem Cell Research.Stem cell research is a biotechnology application thatuses the potential of immature cells which have the ability to develop intovarious types of cells such as cardiac cells, muscle cells, or liver cells.
In practice,stem cells are grown in lab and chemically treated to achieve the wanted cell. It has applications in regenerative medicine where it isused to restore degenerative tissue and organs of persons suffering fromchronic disease or injury. Stem cell research has laid the groundwork in tissueediting due to their implied indefinite division. This application of tissueand gene editing alongside stem cells can produce tangible organs that aredirect descendants of the donor, reducing the chances of rejection which is thecase of transplant medicine today.
In current research, stem cells are obtained from embryos;this involves eggs that have been donated and fertilized in vitro with consent.The cells are cultured in a medium suitable for their growth with hopes toproduce an embryonic stem cell line. In certain conditions this does not occurhowever, when the procedure is successful, the cells are allowed to divide atmaximum while not overcrowding the dish. To continue the process, cells areremoved and re-plated.
This can continue for months where the original cell canyield millions of embryonic cells. Undergoing quality assurance, the cells arechecked to ensure that they have remained pluripotent (dividing withoutdifferentiating) and without any mutation.Although large division of stem cells without mutation canbe deemed a success, the true test of stem cells is their ability todifferentiate.
Scientist have developed different procedures by which they cancontrol the type of cell that is produced by a batch of stem cells whether bythe addition of certain genes, changes to the medium, or even the surface towhich the cells grow. A second class of stem cell are adult stem cell or somaticstem cells. These are undifferentiated cells that are found amongdifferentiated cells of tissue with the capacity to renew and regeneratethemselves into a variety of different cells.
In comparison to that ofembryonic stem cells, these are harvested from living persons from tissue suchas the brain, bone marrow, skin, teeth, blood vessels, and even skeletalmuscles. With research, it has been discovered that these cells occupy a spacecalled a “stem cell niche” where they compose the outermost layer of thesetissues. They remain pluripotent until stimulated to regenerate. Induced pluripotent stem cells, a third class of stem cellare reprogrammed adult somatic stem cells that have been reprogrammed toresemble embryonic stem cells. The cells are harvested directly from the donorand treated to be reused for implantation.There are further subdivisions of this class of stem cellsuch as hematopoietic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, and neural stemcells. Some of which have been shown to undergo trans-differentiation; themeans of differentiating into another cell type completely distinct of itssurrounding cells.
Dr. E Thomas, who later won the Nobel prize for his workin bone marrow transplant is considered the pioneer to Stem cell research. Heperformed the first successful bone marrow transplant in a patient sufferingfrom Leukemia from an identical twin.
In 1960, researchers first discovered that bone marrow maycontain different stem cells, hematopoietic and stromal. Eight years later, thisresearch was used to treat a young boy with immunodefiency syndrome by a bonemarrow transplant with his sister as a donor. This was first time a patient notpresenting signs of cancer was treated with a bone marrow. Stem cell research was first introduced in 1978 where thefirst line of embryonic stem cells was discovered in human umbilical cordblood. The first cloning of from a stem cell line was done in 1997 producingDolly the sheep. After this success, between 1984 and 1998, pluripotentstem cells are isolated and treated where it was observed that they candifferentiate into neuron cells and other cells of the sort. Recently, Japanesescientists have cultivated the first kidney for transplant into a livingorganism. During this period of time, advancements and discoveries have beenmade propelling stem cell research to new frontiers of regenerative medicineresearch.
The methods involved in producing stem cell lines varieswith the type of cell that is to be produced. In an article by Bunnel et al in2013., he illustrates the mode by which he and his team isolate and thereafterdifferentiate adipose tissue stem cells. According to their research, adiposestem cells carry with them multipotent properties that can be used for tissueengineering and regeneration.The cells are isolated from tissue most successfully byliposuction in a phosphate buffered saline solution and 5%penicillin/streptomycin. The solution containing the reagents and adiposetissue sample is digested to remove any debris. The cell solution is thentreated by an array of reagents where it is then centrifuged.
The pellet isremoved and placed in a lysis buffer where the cell suspension is strained andplated. Once the cells have been plated, they can be stored in vials placed inliquid nitrogen for long term storage. Because of their multipotent properties, adipose stemcells have garnered a lot of attention from the scientific community. Theability of these cells to differentiate into other cell types makes their usevery important. The differentiation can be controlled by cytokines or a medleyof chemicals used for induction. The process is highly patient oriented whichcan play a role in the success of the method. According to various studies, theage of the donor can determine the yield of differentiated cells where youngerpersons have a higher differentiation yield.
This method of isolation and differentiationof adipose stem cells can be used in a variety of fields ranging fromosteogenesis, chondrogenesis, and neurogenesis.Another research article conducted by Schwartz et al., speaksabout embryo derived pluripotent stem cells and their capability to bedifferentiated into neural cells. The method of this research is used in anumber of scenarios from treating Parkinson’s disease in mice to treatinganimal model spinal injuries. Though this application of biotechnology research hasfuture use in repairing damaged spinal cords, vision, muscle tissue, and organsit is still to be well received by persons outside the scientific community. Accordingto the Professional Ethics Report, the issues surrounding stem cell researchhas begun as early as 1998. Adult stem cells have shown their capability inbeing able to generate different cells including cells able to regenerate bloodcells.
The cells with farther capability are embryonic stem cells. The controversyarises from the ethical and respectful manner in which to harvest and testembryonic stem cells that are donated. Going further, if these cells are so importantand worth the time and effort, what constitutes as a worthy cause?There is currently no funding for stem cell research andall advancements that have been made, especially in the last ten years havebeen due to private funding. Currently, the United Stated Food & Drug Administration(FDA) restricts any use of stem cells with the exception of hematopoietic stemcells for the use of blood cell regeneration. The testing of these cells mustbe done according to FDA regulation with strict coherence. They are limited toa few procedures in patients that suffer with disorders that might affect theirproduction of blood.
The FDA has since taken even more action that in August of2017, announced that it will be enforcing stricter regulations on stem cellbanks and persons imitating them by offering relief. This of course is notwithout cause. In 2016 a few cases were discussed where a patient was injectedwith stem cells in the eye and later became blind, another grew a spinal tumor.The warning by the FDA are to ensure that persons seeking help and relief arenot led to believe that stem cell research is a cure all for their disorders. In 2001, the Bush administration and pro-life partyallowed funding to the National Institute of Health for the use of existing stemcells and banned the use of any other donated cells. The NIH deemed less thanhalf of those cells fit for use.
What more is that the ban bottlenecked theworking environment for many scientist and their international relationshipswith regards to their sharing of information and contribution. Of the 21 linesthat were deemed useful, they were prepared in a way that would seem carelessby today’s standards of laboratory practices. The order carried out by PresidentBush was not well received by the scientific community including the head ofthe National Health Institute under the Bush administration who believed this tobe a setback in the progress toward research and advancement. Some people believed that stem cell research is on thesame field as pro- life where human life begins at implantation and arevehemently against it. Others of the pro-life syndicate did not see it the sameway. Senator Hatch stated that the “human life begins in the womb and not thepetri dish or refrigerator…the situation dictates that these embryos which areroutinely discarded, be used to improve and save lives.” There are pro-lifesupporters that see the possibility contained within stem cells suggesting thatstem cell research be done using frozen embryos obtained by a couple that hastried infertility treatment.
In 2009, the Obama administration revoked the order oftheir predecessor allowing funding to the NIH for new embryonic stem cell linesthat were previously restricted. The act initiated a review of the guidelinesby which the NIH were regulated and the issuance of new criteria for stem cellresearch. This news was welcomed throughout the scientific community and almost60 percent of the American population supported the use of federal funding forembryonic stem cell research based on a polling done by the Washington Post. Thereversal of the order did open more doors for research but did not increase thenumber of viable sources to conduct that research. After the regulation andcriteria were amended by the NIH, embryonic cells that were acquired from fertilityclinics or created for specific research were the only ones to be used forresearch. Because of this many states have set up independent facilities thatare privately funded completely bypassing the NIH and the need for federalfunding.
The European Union has a slightly different take on whatshould be done with stem cell research. For instance, the current legal standingof the United Kingdom on the issues of stem cell research states that tissuesand cells that are procured are to be used solely for research based and not betransplanted into humans. These cells do not have any definite restrictions or regulationsbut must be registered with the Research Ethics committee.
Thereafter, they canbe stored as the researcher sees fit until their research has been concluded. Tissues and cells for transplantation must be licensed underthe Human Tissue Regulation of 2007. This regulation act serves to govern overhow the cells are acquired, tested, stored, distributed and transplanted intohumans whether it be for medicinal therapy or research. The use of embryonicstem cells is allowed only when given consent by the donor.
These cells areonly licensed once the research aim can meet certain conditions outlined in theHuman Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.In the past few years there have been success and failurefor stem cells. In November of 2017 a nine-year-old boy suffering from epidermolysisbullosa; a condition where there is a genetic defect in the protein forminggenes necessary to form skin was treated. Approximately 80 percent of his skinwas grafted with modified stem cells at the Muenster University hospital inGermany led by Dr. Michele De Luca.
There are five types of the disease andthirty-one subtypes all of which are incurable. Over five hundred thousand peopleworldwide are affected with this disorder and forty percent die before adolescence.Researchers biopsied stem cells from the healthy areas ofthe boy’s skin. A healthy version of the gene for skin regeneration was added tothe cells and placed in a vector. The cells were grown on fibrin substrate similarto the material used to treat burn victims, a process which took approximatelyfour weeks. The first round of grafting done to his appendages was done in 2015and the second round was completed this past November. Researchers have beenmonitoring the boy for any signs of rejection of which he has shown none.
In another case discovered in May 2017, fat cells wereremoved from a patient and cultured to form adipose derived stem cells. They wereused to form cartilage for his swollen cystic wrist. After the first procedure,there was markedly immediate response to the treatment and within seven months therewere no longer any cysts or inflammation. There were visible signs of bonereconstruction and new cartilage all confirmed by MRI scanning performed by Dr.
Eckhard Alt of the Isar Klinikum in Germany.To conclude, stem cell research can give persons a secondchance at what was lost whether it was an organ, appendage, or degenerativetissue. The research field of stem cells is also an interesting talking point.Within our bodies we have a cell that is capable of becoming something otherthan what it was intended to be for example fat cells becoming cartilage. Underthe correct conditions, these cells can be reprogrammed for differentiation ofan organ entirely different to its original cell type.
It is also remarkablethat the cells have the ability to divide indefinitely.With continuing research and persons dedicated to thecause, the goals of what stem cells can achieve are limitless. So muchsuccessful research has been done in the past ten years alone that people areseeking this as a means to an end of deteriorating conditions to which they arefinding ease. Cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in the developedworld and stem cell research has also began to find ways to reduce its effects.Lou Gherig’s disease is currently a number one source of experimental researchin neuroscience where scientists are finding new ways to cure nervous systemdecay.
Because there has been some success with treatments, Iwill say that further research and measures must be taken to ensure that beyonda reason of a doubt, stem cells can be used as a treatment option. No procedureis without its risks but at the moment there is too much looming over the headof stem cell research.