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Stem Cell Research: Pros and Cons

George Dion
One Method to Cure Them All
Imagine a world where the blind can see and where the crippled can walk. Stem cells can make miracles like this a reality. Stem cells are cells which have no specific function, but have the ability to replace any type of cell in the human body when needed. There are two types of stem cells; embryonic and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can generate all cell types of the human body. Adult stem cells are limited in the number of human cell types they can produce. Research in stem cells is causing a lot of controversy today due to the ethics that go behind gathering them. In order to gather embryonic stem cells, an abortion needs to be performed. Many people in our society are protesting government funding for this practice because they believe that it is immoral and unethical to destroy human life . Many of these people are part of an anti-abortion group called “The Pro-Life Movement.” Members of this group are devoted christians that believe abortion is a sin. With debates escalating to bombings of abortion clinics, politicians have to decide whether or not funding for embryonic stem cell research is the right action to take to better our country. With other nations further along in embryonic stem cell research, delaying government funding could set us back even further behind in our medical studies.
In order for one to take a side in the debate on whether or not the government should fund stem cell research, one must first understand what embryonic stem cells are and what potential do they have in the medical field. In the human body, there are over 220 different types of cells. All of those cell are derived from a group of cells known as embryonic stem cells. An embryonic stem cell is a cell within the human embryo without a predetermined function. This type of stem cell has the potential to become a number of many specialized cells. They can trigger this ability when they are placed among other specialized cells. Specialized cells include any type of cell in the human body with a specific function such as hair, skin, muscle, or organ cells. Embryonic stem cells differ from adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are similar to embryonic stem cells, but they only have a limited number of functions.Therefore, it does not make sense investing time and money into utilizing a type of cell when an even better cell exists. Modern science would have the ability to harness the incredible power that is derived from the embryonic stem cell, but activists that believe stem cell research is unethical are holding them back. Because the only way to acquire embryonic stem cells includes destroying the embryo, Christian pro-life activists choose to protest this practice rather than help make a contribution to society by supporting it.
From a scientific standpoint, one can only agree that the pros of stem cell research outweigh the cons. Stem cell research is supported by many because these cells have the potential to treat a wide variety of medical conditions and diseases. Stem cell research could even lead to a cure for some of the most tragic injuries and disease of the human body (Stem Cell Facts). These diseases and injuries include but are not limited to: diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, stroke, birth defects, and even cancer. With this information alone, an avid member of society can come to the conclusion that stem cells have the ability to cure the diseases that are killing millions of people worldwide and should be utilized to their full potential. People with cancer who undergo numerous chemotherapy sessions, which only slow down the spreading of the cancer, could be fully cured with only a few treatments of stem cell therapy. If scientist had undisputed support from the general public, we can witness the use of stem cells being mastered in our generation; and no one would have to suffer like the millions of people debilitated with these tragic diseases again.
As also stated in Stem Cell Facts’ article, the cons of stem cell research include the fears of what could come of such knowledge and the moral implications of using the stem cells. Ignorant, Christian, pro-life activists fear that this practice is in a way “trying to play God,” and that humans should not be messing with human life. With this logic, stem cells can be viewed as a gift from God meant to be developed as used to help our fellow man. The cons of stem cell research are based solely on personal beliefs, there is no fact behind them. Opposers of embryonic stem cell research do not take into account the medical promise that funding for this research will bring. These people also believe that stem cell research would promote abortion, a practice that pro-life activists find inhumane. Many of the debates and controversies go even further than this, such as how the stem cells are collected, why embryonic stem cells are preferable to adult stem cells and the moral implications that are involved with using the stem cells from a fetus that could have been a contributing member of society if it was allowed to grow to become a full term baby. (Stem Cell Facts)
In 2001, President George W. Bush restricted federal funding for research on stem cells obtained from human embryos because the technology required the destruction of human life. (Benson). President Bush made this decision to acquire more support from fellow politicians. This restriction was later uplifted by President Barack Obama in 2009. This action was taken by our president because he saw the clear potential that embryonic stem cell research has on our society. In 2012, the presidential election campaign raised uncertainty about funding for stem cell research . Many Republicans stated that if elected, they would drastically reduce future federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in attempt to gain the popularity over Christian voters who are against practices that include destroying human embryos. This shows that the people who are supposed to be focused on the main interests of citizens of our country only care about acquiring the most votes in an election.
There is no doubt that the majority of Americans support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Based on a survey conducted in 2007, 51% of Americans said that it is important to conduct stem cell research that might lead to new cures than to avoid destroying human embryos (Gilgoff). Many of the citizens that protest stem cell research and the gathering of embryonic stem cells believe that this practice is inhumane. From a political standpoint, supporting stem cell research will benefit those involved in politics and the general public as a whole.As citizens of this democratic country of ours, the majority of the people’s vote in topics such as this should contribute in the discions made by politicians if they can directly effect the people. From a moral standpoint, it makes sense to support research that would give up one life to ultimately save millions around the world. In my opinion, finding cures for tragic diseases is more important than following the words from a book.
Even though research in embryonic stem cells is at a very promising and crucial point, there are people who will go to all means to try to hold back new developments. There is a group in California named “ The Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.” They are a Christian pro-life activist ministry dedicated to educating the youth of America about practicing abstinence, by the information found on their website, this group seems more like a cult than a group whose intentions include educating the youth of America. The group consists mostly of California residents between the ages of 18-30. By organizing protests at various abortion clinics, the members of The Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust are spreading their ignorant pro-life message, contaminating the minds of today’s youth with personal opinions rather than facts. This one small group will not influence many people’s opinions about the matter, the main group that is trying to cut off funding for embryonic stem cell research is the Catholic Church. (Who Are the Survivors?)
In 2001, the U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops stated that they feel that embryonic stem cell research is “immoral, illegal, and unnecessary (PBS).” They believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception. But what about conception that occurred before wedlock? Does that not go against the Catholic church’s beliefs? Granted that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, a pregnant woman who is not ready to become a mother and would like to make a contribution to the medical field should have the right to donate her embryo without the fear of being harassed by the church or any active pro-life activists protesting at clinics. It is clear that the only people who are against embryonic stem cell research are religious people who are simply abiding by the requisites of their faith. Why should the United States continue to seek outdated treatment when a more promising, advanced medical procedure is out there?
Embryonic stem cell research is reaching potentials only thought possible in science fiction. Imagine if you could take living cells, load them into a printer, and squirt out a 3D tissue that could develop into a kidney or a heart. Scientists are one step closer to that reality, now that they have developed the first printer that is able to produce living embryonic human stem cells (Cronin). With this technology, we are one step closer to creating artificial organs that are able to perform just as well if not better than original human organs. When this practice is mastered, there will be no need for patients to be placed on long waiting lists waiting for an organ donor that matches their criteria. Researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, have created a cell printer that is able to produce living embryonic stem cells. This machine can be used to create 3D human tissues which can be used for testing new drugs and growing organs. In the near future, this machine will even be able to produce cells directly into a human body. “Tests revealed that more than 89% of the cells were still alive three days after being produced from the printer.” These tests prove that this machine is capable of creating cells that are able to sustain human life. If the majority of the cells created by this machine could only stay alive for a minutes, or even hours, it would show little potential for this printer. Since the results are far more promising, printers like this that are capable of creating embryonic stem cells can revolutionize modern medicine today.
When we have the ability to end the suffering of many people across our country, why would we hesitate? Our country was founded on the belief that the state should be separated from the church. This simply means that religious beliefs that are based solely on opinion should not influence the decisions made by politicians. If it was not for President Bush’s administration banning federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, advancements that will be made ten years from now could have been made today. Embryonic stem cells are a vital aspect in the medical field.
Our country was found on the belief of separation between religion and state. The First Amendment of our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (Cornell).” This means that beliefs and rules of the church should not affect political decisions. Embryonic stem cell research would fall under this category of the constitution. If our politicians honored the Constitution, they would come to the logical agreement that funding this research would save many lives in the United States. For this controversial issue, the pros undoubtedly out-weigh the cons. Anyone who cannot see this is blind to the scientific facts. With the chance to rid the suffering from millions of people worldwide, why would anyone try to protest embryonic stem cell research?
Works Cited
“Stem Cell Research Pros and Cons.” Stem Cell Facts. N.p., 19 Sept. 2011. Web. 21 May 2014.

Serotonin Function and Mechanism of Antidepressant Action

Neurotransmitters are chemicals located and released in the brain to allow an impulse from one nerve cell to pass to another nerve cell.
There are approximately 50 neurotransmitters identified. There are billions of nerve cells located in the brain, which do not directly touch each other. Nerve cells communicate messages by secreting neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters can excite or inhibit neurons (nerve cells). Some common neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter. It is synthesized, from the amino acid L-tryptophan, in brain neurons and stored in vesicles. Serotonin is found in three main areas of the body: the intestinal wall; large constricted blood vessels; and the central nervous system. The most widely studied effects have been those on the central nervous system. The functions of serotonin are numerous and appear to involve control of appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, mood, behavior (including sexual and hallucinogenic behavior), cardiovascular function, muscle contraction, endocrine regulation, and depression. It is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being; therefore it is also known as a “happiness hormone” despite not being a hormone.
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which complements excitatory sympathetic systems like adrenaline and dopamine in the Central Nervous System. The physiological activity of serotonin starts from the brainstem in groups of brain cells called Raphe nucleus. Serotonin brain cells then spread to various regions of the central nervous system by branching out throughout the brain.
In 1935, Italian Vittorio Erspamer showed that an extract from enterochromaffin cells made intestines contract. Some believed it contained adrenaline, but two years later Erspamer was able to show that it was a previously unknown amine, which he named enteramine.[4] In 1948, Maurice M. Rapport, Arda Green, and Irvine Page of the Cleveland Clinic discovered a vasoconstrictor substance in blood serum, and since it was a serum agent affecting vascular tone, they named it serotonin. In 1952 it was shown that enteramine was the same substance as serotonin, and as the broad range of physiological roles were elucidated, the abbreviation 5HT of the proper chemical name 5-hydroxytryptamine became the preferred name in the pharmacological field.
Mechanism of action
The activity of serotonin arises in the brainstem from clusters of neurons known as the raphe nucleus. From the brain, serotonin neurons extend to virtually all parts of the central nervous system making the branching of the serotonin network the most expansive neurochemical system in the brain. The importance of this network becomes apparent when considering each serotonin neuron exerts an influence over as many as 500,000 target neurons. Due to the widespread distribution of serotonin in the nervous system, it is not surprising that this neurotransmitter can be linked to many types of behavior.
Of the chemical neurotransmitter substances, serotonin is perhaps the most implicated in the treatment of various disorders, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, stroke, obesity, pain, hypertension, vascular disorders, migraine, and nausea. A major factor in the understanding of the role of 5-HT in these disorders is the recent rapid advance made in understanding the physiological role of various serotonin receptor subtypes. There are at least four populations of receptors for serotonin: 5-HT1, 5-HT2, 5-HT3, and 5-HT4. The physiological function of each receptor subtype has not been established and is currently the subject of intensive investigation.
Effects as a neurotransmitter
Most neurotransmitters are released from tiny synaptic terminal buttons at the ends of nerve cells, but serotonin appears to be different. It is instead released freely from serotonergic varicosities into the general neuronal space, diffusing over a much larger area to activate the 5-HT receptors of nearby neurons. This reuptake can be disrupted by agents like MDMA, cocaine, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
The overall action of serotonin is very complex and not entirely understood.
Peripheral effects
Cardiovascular action
The cardiovascular effects of serotonin are complex. They are variable depending on the dose injected, experimental conditions, animal species and vascular state.
Action on vessels:
Serotonin induces either a vasoconstriction by 5-HT2 effect, in particular of renal vessels, or a vasodilation. Serotonin constricts veins and seems to induce venous thromboses and promotes platelet aggregating effect. It increases capillary permeability.
Action on heart:
Serotonin has a positive chronotropic action by 5-HT4 receptor stimulation and could take part in the genesis of certain rhythm disorders. It has a positive inotropic effect.
Action on blood pressure:
It is complex, according to experimental conditions, serotonin gives either hypotension, or hypertension, or no modification.
Action on smooth muscles
Serotonin induces contractions of intestine, bronchi and uterus.
Digestive effects:
Serotonin increases intestinal motility, probably by stimulation of 5-HT4 and 5-HT3 receptors: in human beings, injected by intravenous route, it increases duodenum and small intestine motility. This effect explains diarrhea observed in patients with carcinoid syndrome.
Bronchial effects:
Serotonin has a bronchoconstrictive action and a serotonin aerosol induces dyspnea (difficult or labored respiration).
Uterus effect:
Serotonin induces contractions of the uterus.
Other actions
Researchers have also found evidence that serotonin may play a role in regulating milk production in the breast, and that a defect within the serotonin network may be one underlying cause of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Central effects
Serotonin is involved in the regulation of sleep, mood (antidepressant action), temperature, appetite (appetite suppressant effect).
Overstimulation of 5-HT2 receptors could induce productive and negative symptoms of psychotic disorders. LSD or lysergide, agonist of 5-HT2 receptors and also of D1 and D2 dopaminergic receptors, has hallucinogenic properties.
Serotonin, thanks to its various types of presynaptic and postsynaptic receptors, modulates the activity of other transmitters. It plays a determining part in adaptation.
Effects of Excess or Low Serotonin
Serotonin is involved in allergic and inflammatory symptoms and in certain diseases:
Carcinoid syndrome:
The carcinoid syndrome is caused by metastatic tumors of enterochromaffin cells of the digestive tract which secrete various compounds, in particular a great quantity of serotonin. It is characterized by diarrhea, flushes (accesses of cutaneous vasodilation followed by a vasoconstriction), dyspnea and sometimes a damage to cardiac valves. The biological diagnosis of these tumors is based on the increase in serotonin concentration in blood and on the excretion of abnormal amounts of 5-hydroxy-indolacetic acid, 5-HIAA, in urines.
Migraine is a disease characterized by repeated accesses of headache in which vasomotor phenomena and serotonin play a determining part. In the first prodromic phase, there is a vasoconstriction, and in the second painful phase, a vasodilation. This vasodilation is reduced by vasoconstrictive drugs.
Myocardial ischemia:
Serotonin released from platelets seems to worsen the myocardial ischemia by vasoconstriction.
Hallucinations occur due to increased levels of Serotonin.
Generalized anxiety disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive worry that causes problems at work and in the maintenance of daily responsibilities. Evidence suggests that GAD involves several neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including norepinephrine and serotonin.
Deficiencies or excessive intake of certain dietary minerals and vitamins can disrupt the level of serotonin, causing disruptions in the production or reuptake processes surrounding serotonin.
Several drugs that affect the serotonin system
Several classes of drugs target the 5-HT system, including some antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, antiemetics, and antimigraine drugs, as well as the psychedelic drugs and empathogens.
When Serotonin is low, certain problems with concentration and attention can be experienced. People become scatterbrained and poorly organized. It takes longer to do things because of poor planning. When Serotonin is moderately low, the following symptoms and behaviours have been observed:
Chronic fatigue. Despite sleeping extra hours and naps, fatigue remains. There is a sense of being “worn out”
Sleep disturbance.
Appetite disturbance is present, usually in two types. There is a loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss or a craving for sweets and carbohydrates when the brain is trying to make more Serotonin.
Total loss of sexual interest is present. In fact, there is loss of interest in everything, including those activities and interests that have been enjoyed in the past.
Social withdrawal is common not answering the phone, rarely leaving the house/apartment, stop calling friends and family, and withdrawal from social events.
Emotional sadness and frequent crying spells are common.
Self-esteem and self-confidence are low.
Body sensations, due to Serotonin’s role as a body regulator, include hot flushes and temperature changes, headaches, and stomach distress.
Clinical Depression
This is perhaps the most common mental health problem encountered in practice. One in four adults will experience clinical depression within their lifetime. Serotonin acts as an important “feel-good” neurotransmitter, sending signals that an individual is relaxed and happy. In the absence of serotonin, patients feel sad and unwell and may even experience fear, anxiety and physical discomfort. serotonin acts as an important “feel-good” neurotransmitter, sending signals that an individual is relaxed and happy. In the absence of serotonin, patients feel sad and unwell and may even experience fear, anxiety and physical discomfort.
Treatment for depression, as might be expected, involves increasing levels of Serotonin in the brain. Since the mid-eighties, medications have been available that attempt to specifically target and increase Serotonin. Known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s), these medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil are felt to work by making more Serotonin available in the brain.
Like all neurotransmitters, we can have too much Serotonin.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
The American Academy of Family Physicians explains that one of the disorders categorized as a serotonin deficiency-related illness is obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this psychiatric condition, patients feel obsessed with certain issues, like cleanliness or order, and are therefore compelled to engage in what they perceive as related behaviors, including rigorous and repetitive cleaning or hand washing. Researchers have determined that low levels of serotonin in the brain are responsible for many cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and physicians prescribe pharmaceuticals that help increase brain levels of serotonin. These drugs help reduce or relieve symptoms entirely, allowing individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder to live normal lives.
Serotonin Syndrome
While elevated levels of Serotonin produce a sense of well-being, bliss, and “oneness with the universe” too much Serotonin can produce a life-threatening condition known as Serotonin Syndrome (SS).Likely to occur by accident by combining two Serotonin-increasing medications or substances. These are some of its symptoms:
Cognitive mental confusion, hypomania, agitation, headache, coma
Autonomic shivering, sweating, fever, hypertension, tachycardia, nausea, diarrhea
Somatic myoclonus/clonus (muscle twitching), hyperreflexia, tremor
Emergency medical treatment is required, utilizing medications that neutralize or block the action of Serotonin as the treatment for Serotonin Syndrome (SS).
Discontinuation syndrome
Antidepressants such as SSRIs have some dependence producing effects, most notably a withdrawal syndrome. Their dependence producing properties (depending on the antidepressant) may not be as significant as other psychotropic drugs such as benzodiazepines, however, withdrawal symptoms nonetheless may be quite severe and even debilitating. SSRIs have little abuse potential, but discontinuation can produce disturbing withdrawal symptoms that may not be able to be distinguished from a reoccurrence of the original illness:
Sexual side effects
Cardiac side effects
Suicide risk
Post SSRI sexual dysfunction
Permanent nuerophysiological changes
Persistent pulmonary hypertension
Bleeding tendencies
Applications of Serotonin
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used as first-line therapy to treat mood disorders due to their demonstrated efficacy, safety, and tolerability profiles. SSRIs may play an intricate role in treating hormone-mediated disorders that disturb the quality of life for women. Selected uses of SSRIs, specifically in the treatment of hot flashes, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and postpartum depression, are explored in this article. Data from several studies support the use of SSRIs in these conditions, and therefore, these agents have the potential to significantly improve mood, cognitive function, physical symptoms, and social functioning in patients with these disorders. In addition, SSRIs may prove to be viable alternatives to current therapies that may be contraindicated, poorly tolerated, or lack efficacy in patients with these disorders.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
PTSD is an anxiety disorder affecting individuals who have been exposed to a disastrous event, which may have threatened their lives or included witnessing tragic harm being afflicted. This disorder is most often related to individuals who have experienced combat. Patients are treated with an SSRI-Selective Serotonin Receptacle Inhibitors that have a calming effect on the body. The result for the patient is a calming effect on the body and reduction in the feeling of anxiety and aggression.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread pain of the muscles and tendons accompanied by varied tender points all over the body and general fatigue. Fibromyalgia affects more women than men and occurs in 2 percent of the population in the United States. As serotonin is a pain-fighting hormone, it is frequently used to treat fibromyalgia. Many medical professionals agree fibromyalgia is caused by low levels of serotonin. Besides taking supplements, serotonin can be taken from natural sources of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in the body’s production of serotonin and is found in soy, turkey, chicken, halibut, beans and cheddar cheese.
General Stress
Serotonin’s mood regulating neurotransmitters help alleviate stress in sufferers. People suffering from chronic stress benefit from supplementing their regular diet with serotonin, or tryptophan to increase its production. In some cases, using lavender can induce feelings of calm and happiness. Known as a feel good hormone, serotonin is actually lowered by high levels of stress and therefore must be added back.
Ways to increase serotonin levels: Eat healthy
Free Range Turkey – Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is present, in different amounts, in all protein foods. This amino acid is the building block for the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Flaxseed/ Flaxseed oil – As well as being great for fat loss, flaxseeds are great foods that raise serotonin levels because they contain both tryptophan and high levels of omega 3 fatty acids. 60 percent of the brain is made of structural fats, and omega 3 fatty acids make up a large proportion of brain nerve cells.
Wild Fish and Sea food = Fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines and herring are rich in oils containing the essential fats EPA and DHA. Both of these long chain fats have been shown in trials both to smooth the mood swings of bipolar disorder and to ease regular depression.
Whey protein = Whey protein has gained a greater and greater reputation as a super-food over recent years. Whey has been shown to regulate appetite, improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, bolster the immune system and has been shown to be the ideal protein source to use around workout time.
High quality Eggs
Sour Cherries
Free Range Beef
Dark Chocolate – Cocoa is well known to increase serotonin levels in the brain the trick is not to eat so much that you crash a few hours later. Similarly most chocolate is clearly high in sugar and will spike blood sugar levels causing serotonin levels to plummet when your blood sugar crashes.