Despite its controversial nature, stem cell research has resulted in a wave of medical science breakthroughs. Stem cells have produced effective results in tests to cure Type 1 diabetes and treat the degenerative brain disease Parkinson’s. Scientists have also engineered stem cells which effectively kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells that can divide to produce more stem cells, or differentiate into a more specialized cell. The ability of stem cells to be able to differentiate into specialized cells allows them to be used in all different kinds of experimental medical research, and one day these breakthroughs may be put into practice.
When used against cancer, Harvard scientists have produced a cancer-killing stem cell, which is given after surgical removal of the main mass of cancer. The stem cell was genetically engineered to carry and release cancer-killing toxins, without damaging the stem cell or other healthy cells in the body. Proven effective in mice tests, it is widely considered a major breakthrough in cancer-fighting research.
Another breakthrough has proven that stem cells can be used to reverse the brain damage that could be caused by Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s is a degenerative brain disease that cannot be cured, and it causes a loss of nerve cells that produce dopamine. By converting the stem cells into dopamine-producing neurons and then injecting those cells into rats’ brains, there was evidence that the damage was reversed.
Stem cells might also be able to cure diabetes, as researcher Douglas Melton has discovered a way to convert stem cells into insulin-producing cells, which can then be injected into the pancreas. The cells can read the levels of sugar that enter the body and secrete the right dose of insulin to balance sugar levels. This method resulted in rats being completely cured of diabetes within only 10 days.
With all of these breakthroughs, and seemingly more every day, stem cell research has never been more encouraging.