Stem cells are very useful for two main reasons: they easily replicate themselves and they can grow into any kind of body cells required, whether for organs, muscles or bones, etc. Embryonic stem cells are extracted from unformed embryos (blastocysts) either already in the womb or through assisted reproduction attempts using in vitro fertilisation. However, the importance of such cells for humankind is that over 200 kinds of tissues originate from them so they offer quite a few benefits for research, in four major areas, in fact.
1. Knowledge of human development
Embryonic stem cell research helps scientists to understand human growth and cell development; how we grow and how the vast array and variety of body cells transform to make us into the remarkable living beings we are. Many serious ailments, like birth defects or cancer, occur through a malfunction of the cell development process. Appreciating the intricacies of this process and how it could be enhanced or corrected provides valuable insight for mankind.
One major advantage of embryonic stem cells research is that they also contribute significantly to the understanding of adult stem cells. They are far more versatile than the adult cells in that they can develop into any cell type to suit the body.
2. Combating known diseases
Some current well known diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and schizophrenia, to name a few, benefit from embryonic stem cell research because of the enormous potential for discovering treatments for them and even saving the lives of millions of sufferers through knowing much more about their origins. Diseases which might be considered incurable would reveal their secrets and even paralysed people might be able to walk again because of that. The advances in medical science over the past two decades, especially in the discovery of DNA and its importance to genetics, mean that it is just a matter of time before the answers to certain medical conditions reveal themselves through embryonic stem cell research.
3. Growing human organs
The nature of embryonic stem cells make them ideal for research in growing human organs. They are easy to identify, very easy to grow in culture form and have the capacity to form any cell type necessary. There are currently over 80,000 people in America waiting for organ transplants with very little hope of getting them. It means that there would be less reliance on donated body parts because stem cells could provide a never ending replacement source for lost limbs and specific organs.
4. Testing new medication
Millions of new drugs and medicine would be able to be tested using embryonic stem cell research. There would be no need to use animal or humans to test them (thus avoiding potential side effects too). All testing would be done directly on the cell tissues which would reveal any potential problems much more clearly.
Such cells could even be used for research in ageing and prolonging life by revealing how we age and whether there is actually any kind of mechanism for halting, or dramatically reducing, the process!
The main direct benefit of embryonic stem cell research is more knowledge about the human body and the ailments it has and how they can be cured, but the indirect benefits to mankind as a whole could be incalculable.