Current Areas of ResearchStem Cell Research

Due to the ability of stem cells to develop in to any possible cell line, the list of their potential areas of use is ever increasing. As well as those previously mentioned, present areas of interest include:

  • Improved fertility treatments, especially IVF.

  • More effective contraceptive methods.

  • Experimentation on stem cells due to their similarity to tumour cells:
    Stem cells and tumour cells behave similarly in several ways, most notably in their potential for ‘immortality’. It is hoped that a greater understanding in stem cell behaviour may help to improve our understanding of tumour cell behaviour, leading to better cancer treatments and managements of the disease in general. For example, it is presently believed that tumours consist of both specific ‘cancer stem cells’ (stem cells that express a faulty gene leading to initial tumour development) as well as subsequent ‘bulk’ tumour cells. Researchers have suggested that many present cancer treatments merely target the bulk tumour cells, leaving the cancer stem cells behind. The stem cells remaining are often in such small numbers as to be undetectable by regular screening methods. This contributes to the proven genetic association of some cancers such as bowel and breast; but also may explain the high rate of recurrence of certain cancers. Research on embryonic stem cells may therefore help to develop more effective treatments to enable the destruction of cancer stem cells.

  • Detection and cure of genetic defects and associated illnesses such as cancers with a known genetic component:
    Researchers believe that they will eventually be able to encourage stem cells with the ‘correct’ version of a gene to develop in to cells that will be able to replace those expressing the ‘faulty’ gene seen in tumour cells.

  • Growth of new tissues/organs for transplantation, for example, the growth of new brain cells for Parkinson’s sufferers or new organs for those on the transplant list. High profile sufferers affected by such diseases such as Michael J. Fox (Parkinson’s), have added weight to the campaign for the use of stem cell research for just such reasons (as shall be explored in more detail in the following pages).