Spinal cord injuries comprise of some of the most severe and devastating conditions that humans can suffer. Injuries to the spinal cord often result in a distressing medical condition characterized by significant sensory and functional deficits (Master, et al., 2013). Additionally, this condition is also associated with a broad range of emotional and social issues that can make it worse for the patient to cope with the situation. Specifically, spinal cord injuries result in loss of nervous tissues consequently culminating in the loss of an individuals sensory and motor function (Baylis and Jocelyn, 2012). Besides, spinal cord injuries also increase ones risk of contracting other serious health complications including cardiovascular complications, pressure ulcers, neuropathic pain, osteoporosis, and deep vein thrombosis. However, in as much as the condition is severe, there is currently no treatment for spinal cord injuries or any other related traumatic injuries (Wilson-Kovacs and Christine, 2012). Effective treatment is that which can help restore the patient to a level of guaranteed independence.
Nevertheless, there has been significant progress in research linked to treatment of traumatic injuries or spinal cord injuries. For example, before the World War II, spinal cord injuries were considered fatal conditions that ultimately resulted in the death of the affected individuals (Wilson-Kovacs and Christine, 2012). A few people who survived the condition were limited to living a life of dependence on others and machines such as wheelchairs for their morbidity (Baylis and Jocelyn, 2012). Besides, they also had to fight other complications such as constant blood clots, pressure sores, and kidney failures.
However, as research progressed through the 20th and 21st centuries, new antibiotics, technologies, and aggressive rehabilitation strategies emerged. These, while they do not necessarily cure spinal cord injuries, they are very influential in helping the patients manage their ailing condition (Wilson-Kovacs and Christine, 2012). Consequently, there is a glimmer of hope for bot doctors and patients of traumatic injuries such as the spinal cord injuries that such injuries will eventually be repairable. One of the new technologies that are being fronted as the most probable solution for spinal cord injuries is stem cell transplantation. Research in stem cell transplantation has intensified in recent years (Wilson-Kovacs and Christine, 2012). Stem cell experimentation is based on the fact that stem cells can easily differentiate and develop into many other different types of cells. With this technology, it can be easy to treat various health problems including genetic diseases, degenerative problems, and physical trauma among others.
Initially, stem cell research mainly focused on embryos or fetuses, but the field has grown to include adult stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, and amniotic stem cells. Nevertheless, stem cell research emerged as a very controversial issue in the society polarizing people, even in the medical field, attracting both support and opposition almost in equal measures. Most of the controversy revolves around the ethical values of the process (Moon and Seong, 2014). This controversy also seemed to reignite the longstanding debate for pro-life and pro-choice groups in relation to the treatment of embryonic cells. In stem cell research, embryos are destroyed in order to extract stem cells, which will then be used to create other cells (Master, et al., 2013). Some sections of the society believe that embryos are living beings and should not be destroyed while others consider this a choice of the individuals involved.
Experimental models of spinal cord injuries have recently produced encouraging results in stem cell research technology (O'brien, 2012). According to recent studies, stem cells can be effectively directed into the spinal cord to differentiate into glia or neurons in vitro. This can form a good foundation for replacing the neural cells that were lost after the spinal cord injury (Master, et al., 2013). Also, effects that promote axon regeneration, as well as neuroprotective, have also emerged as significant progress made in contemporary stem cell research in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.
Nevertheless, despite the significant progress made, there is still a lot of many different issues that ought to be addressed in order to make stem cell research acceptable and applicable in contemporary treatment (O'brien, 2012). One of the gravest issues in this research is the ethical concerns inherent in the practice. The main source of controversy in stem cell research is the status of the human embryo and the technology that is used in creating other cells. Those who debate stem cell study regard the human embryo as the earliest form of human life and that destroying it intentionally is tantamount to murder (Master, et al., 2013). Embryonic stem cell research, therefore, undermines the sanctity of human life while also violating ethical principles such as Immanuel Kants moral theory that humans should not be used as means of achieving other ends, but rather as ends in themselves (O'brien, 2012). Supporters of stem cell research, on the other hand, believe that this research has a potential of ultimately altering strategies and approaches to treating diseases, thereby improving human life.
Finally, stem cell research controversy has been a blessing in disguise to the medical field in various ways. Despite presenting one of the most difficult cost-benefit analysis in morality, the controversy has demanded a reexamination of the different aspects of the research, thereby leading to better and improved strategies in stem cell research. Some of the ethical issues that had been raised have been adequately addressed and scientists are still working harder to make the research more ethical. Stem cell research shows great promise in the treatment of spinal cord injuries, however, the true potential of this treatment process has not yet been explored effectively. Consequently, stem cell-related therapies are only in their infancy stages. Besides, the related risks and challenges are not yet clear. Moreover, there are many other issues such as the ethical concerns associated with stem cell transplantations. As a result, to effectively apply stem cell research in the therapeutic process, it is important to draw close attention to a wide range of related issues that often come up in discussions. Notably, there is the need to address the moral and ethical aspects of this kind of treatment. Nevertheless, the most pertinent question that ought to drive discussions on the progress of stem cell research is whether the benefits of employing this technology in the treatment of spinal cord injuries outweigh the risks associated with stem cell transplantation.
Baylis, F. and Jocelyn D. (2012). "Unfinished Business: Ongoing Ethical Exceptionalism In The Oversight Of Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research In Canada." Accountability In Research: Policies & Quality Assurance 19(1), 13-26.
Master, Z., et al. (2013). "What's Missing? Discussing Stem Cell Translational Research In Educational Information On Stem Cell 'Tourism'." Journal Of Law, Medicine & Ethics 41(1), 254-268.
Moon, S., and Seong B. C. (2014). "Differential Impact Of Science Policy On Subfields Of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research." Plos ONE 9.4: 1-7. Academic Search Premier.
O'brien, J. M. (2012). "The Great Stem Cell Dilemma." Fortune 166(6), 186-195.
Wilson-Kovacs, D. and Christine H. (2012). "Cardiac Stem Cell Research: Regulation And Practice In The UK And Germany." Innovation: The European Journal Of Social Sciences 25(4) 409-423.
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