Human Embryonic Stem cells (hESC)
In order to obtain hESC the embryo from which the cells are harvested is destroyed. Consequently, those who believe that human life begins at conception consider the use of hESC as unethical.
However, a sustained media and scientific campaign has been mounted in the UK with the ultimate aim of removing all restrictions on research using stem cells from human embryos. The basis of the argument has been that without hESC treatments for incurable conditions will never be possible. Yet the sheer success rate of research and number of cures which have been found using adult stem cells stands in stark contrast to the lack of breakthroughs using hESC. The creation of stem cell cultures is permitted in the UK but under a strict regulatory regime.
Adult Stem Cells
In contrast, adult stem cells can be extracted from a consenting patient. An often under reported fact is that to date only adult stem cells have been used extensively and effectively in order to treat degenerate diseases such as spinal cord injuries, heart abnormalities and diabetes.
Cord blood cells
Umbilical cord blood is blood that remains in the placenta and in the attached umbilical cord after childbirth and is a source of stem cells.
Often considered as merely a biological by-product which could be easily disposed of, these cells are rich in multi-potent haematopoietic stem cells. Medical research has shown that stem cells found in Umbilical cord blood have been effective in treating medical conditions such as childhood leukaemia, cancer and brain damage . Clearly such treatments offer an alternative to patients experiencing the more serious consequences associated with transplant surgery.
Cord blood cells appear to have greater potency or ability to differentiate into other cell types than other forms of adult stem cells. Consequently cord blood cells offer some of the advantages of hESC at the same time as avoiding some of the ethical concerns which hESC present.