Embryonic Cells and the Potential of Stem Cells

In vitro fertilization or commonly known as IVF which was introduced in the 70’s gave rise to a lot of possibilities and controversies in the realm of science and morality.  IVF allowed infertile couples a chance to have a child of their own because it took fertilization of the the human body and places it in a petri dish. In an IVF process, several egg cells, around 4-16 egg cells are cultivated from the woman through the process of superovulation. These egg cells are then separated in petri dishes and are fertilized by the sperms cells of the husband or by a donor. Through this process, a lot of embryos are formed. However, there are also a lot of unused embryos because from the possible 16 embryos, only the 4 best embryos are inserted to the mother’s womb and allowed to implant. Thus there was an issue as to what to do with the excess embryos.

One suggestion was to use them for stem cell research. The fascinating thing about embryos in their early stage is that they are totipotent cells. The best stage to take advantage of these cells is in the blastocyst stage because the embryonic cells had divided to around 70-100 cells. Totipotent cells are to be distinguished from multipotent and pluripotent cells. Unlike multipotent and pluripotent, totipotent cells have the potential to transform to any cell. It is like a blank slate waiting for information to be encoded to it. The cells during this stage is undifferentiated and thus capable of transforming to any cell of the body. Thus, embryonic cells play a very important role in stem cell research. If allowed, stem cell research may provide a cure for diseases that have once been deemed incurable. An example would be the regeneration of brain cells damaged from a stroke or y another accident.

There is no special way or process by which embryonic cells differentiate. Simply, at the beginning, there is no specialize function for each cell. It is only after the blastocyst stage that the cells start to have specialized functions. The same would be true in relation to stem cell regeneration. When the totipotent cells come into contact with another cell, they tend to copy whatever information it has and thus becomes that type of cell and thus perform a special function. However, this process can never be reversed. Thus, there is a need for embryonic cells because adult human cells do not have such totipotent qualities.

However, until now, the debate as to whether the embryo has any moral status is still unsettled. And perhaps, it will never be settled.