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Stem Cells

Stem Cells
This mornings Today program discussed "stem cell" research. They do that rather a lot because they feel that it sounds scary to the public... In fact its not scary at all! My point here is on dumbing down however. Given the opportunity to explain a little about what they are... allowing informed opinion by the audience as to whether we should or should not engage in stem cell research they used the expression "stem cells are the body's master cells". They certainly are not!! If you're going to dumb down. At least dumb down reasonably accurately! Stem cells are "seed" or baby cells. They are the cells from which ultimately all other others are formed. Find a natty expression to describe that! "master cells" indeed! That implies they are control cells or some sort.. which they are not! Sure, appreciate that some of the public are ignorant of science issues. Don't make them ignorant!
OK, now an analogy...that probably will do just that. Stem cells are kind of like baby cells. When each baby is born, you don't know if it'll will make it to adulthood? If it will be a shop assistant, doctor, lawyer, prostitute or politician... but a few genes, the environment and the type of up bringing (and some luck) determine that. As with stem cells. Cells are the building blocks of all animals (including people of course!) and we're almost completely made up of them. Your eye is a structure made of cells with some sloshy fluid in it, your muscles are just specially adapted cells. Nerves made up of stretched out cells etc., Skin is also made up cells. Stem cells on the other hand are baby cells. They are so called "pre-differentiated" and haven't yet found any particular role in a persons (or embryo/foetuses) body. At some stage any given stem cell may be triggered to turn into an eye cell, or a kidney cell or a nerve cell, skin cell etc., What triggers it is basically NOT known. That's what stem cell research is all about. Rightly or wrongly, the research aims to be able to grow up donor stem cells and turn them into useful cells to cure some condition. Regrow skin repair a damaged muscle, replace a kidney or whatever. Some scientists would say this is science fiction. It is is probably not. Just science future.  In fact, in diseases such as osteoarthritis, it is probably not that far away.
Its not scary. You may not approve of it, for various reasons, but it quite easy to see what the potential benefits would be.

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