What potential benefits can medical treatments using stem cells provide?
Within the scope of this research, we will assess the potential benefits that medical treatment using stem cells can provide. The term "cell" comes from the Latin word cella, or "small room." (Potten et al 2006) Robert Hooke, a seventeenth-century Renaissance man, coined the term when he first peered through his handcrafted, leather- and gold-tooled microscope at a piece of cork. Reportedly, he came up with the name when the little cells he saw through the microscope reminded him of the small rooms that housed medieval monks. (Green 2001) In humans and other forms of animal life, stem cells are the special, primal structures in the body that retain two special traits: first, the ability to divide indefinitely, and second, the ability to differentiate into other cell types.
These traits are at the root of why stem cells are a source of both order and chaos, representing miracle cure and societal curse. Specifically, the cells that show the most potential can only be retrieved with great difficulty—and through the destruction of a human embryo. It’s possible that these "embryonic" stem cells may lead to great things in the future, lint in the here and now, religious conservatives see their destruction as nothing more than a high-tech form of cannibalism. Belief over what is right permeates the field of stem cell study and its researchers.
The race to nail down venture capital for stem cell research is still wide open. Compared to the dot-com days, where venture capital was flowing in like a tidal wave, the behavior of the high-risk start up "angel" investors strikes many as puzzling. While there is a great deal of media coverage about the great things that are just around the corner, the fact is that when a private investor moves to support the industry, it still makes headlines. To take one example. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated $100 million to John Hopkins University. (Carrier et al 2007) Even though an unspecified portion of the donation was to support stem cell research, the news reports touted this as a major—if not the sole—reason for the philanthropy. It is also more than a little interesting that other private investors have been much more active in spending money to encourage state government funding, as opposed to direct donation.
Some securities analysts have forecast that by 2010, the market for stem cell technologies will exceed $10 billion. (Carrier et al 2007) These are very heady numbers, ones that would make most investment firms salivate. But others have taken a look at these numbers and dismissed them as the same type of math that led to the over-valuation of the dot-com companies and their subsequent meltdown. According to The Economist, consultants with the firm Bain &c Company have taken a much more sober look at the state of the nascent industry. As of early 2006, there are now roughly 140 stem-cell-related products in development. (Carrier et al 2007) Again, depending on which end of the telescope one looks into, this can look promising or underwhelming.