Stem Cell Research

Embryonic stem cells are immature cells in animal embryos that later develop into other cells that make up all the various organs and tissues of the body, such as the heart, eyes, lungs, bones, and pancreas. Early in their development they are like blank slates, but then a process happens in the embryo to make them begin changing into those different kinds of cells. No one understands this entire process yet or how to reproduce it in the laboratory. Adults also have stem cells, but they work differently from embryonic stem cells, and they are not used for the same kind of research.

An enormous amount of research has already been done with the pancreas. Scientists have identified the "master" genes in this organ, and some of these master genes tell embryonic stem cells to become beta cells, which create insulin. Once scientists discover how to re-create this very complex process in the lab, they can then build a process to safely and reliably manufacture enough beta cells. Someday these manufactured cells could possibly be used to cure type 1 diabetes. People with type 2 might also be able to use them for better control of their illness.

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