Stem cells have great potential, in treating patients with currently untreatable conditions, growing organs for transplants, and research.
To collect them they can be removed from human embryos that are a few days old. These could be embryos left over from fertility treatments or cloned from a patient's own cells (therapeutic cloning). Sometimes adult stem cells can be used, but they are not as useful as embryo stem cells because they can only differentiate into a limited number of different specialised cells.
Stem cells could be used for:
However, there are clinical, ethical and social issues with their use. These issues will be different for growth and transplant of adult, embryonic and therapeutically cloned stem cells. They will also depend on whether the stem cells are to be used for therapy or research.
It is important to obtain a balanced view. Sometimes, there are no right or wrong answers, or even answers at all.
Some factors to be considered regarding use of stem cells include:
If someone has heart failure then they may be treated with a heart transplant. The patient that receives the new heart must take immuno-suppressant drugs which will stop their immune system from attacking the new heart and organ rejection occurring. If the patient's own stem cells could be used to grow a new heart, then the body would not reject the transplanted organ.
This is an area of medicine that scientists are carrying out a lot of research into. Being able to grow the organs that a patient needs would save a lot of money and overcome the problem of trying to find an organ donor. This technology is still new and a lot more work needs to be done before it becomes commonplace in medicine.