Neural Plasticity: Stem Cells a solution?
An important concept from the Lilienfeld text is Neural Plasticity particularly following injury and degeneration. As it was discussed in chapter 3, we learn that neural plasticity is the ability of the nervous system and brain to make changes. These changes are critical for development and efficiency in the ease at which neurons send messages. While the brain is still developing, from birth to early adulthood, the brain has heightened neural plasticity. Later in life however, the ease at which the brain and nervous changes can adjust drops drastically. Plasticity in adulthood is mainly limited to learning, which can pose problems when injury and degeneration occur in the brain and spinal cord.
Currently, researchers are searching for ways to stimulate and enable the brain and nervous system to heal itself. Leading research is looking at stem cells; cells coming from embryos that have the ability to develop into different more specialized cells. The idea behind stem cells is that they would be implanted into a patient's nervous system, induced to grow, and then would replace damaged cells. Another way stem cells can potentially aid regeneration and healing in the nervous system is by gene therapy where stem cells can become genetically engineered replacements.
Although a controversial hot button issue, stem cells and stem cell research is an important concept. It has the potential to open many doors in the medical field and has many applications in medicine. Stem cells are cutting edge in treatment options and if they become more widely accepted, diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's will not be the only ones that will be seeing cures in the near future.
This concept may not be applicable to me at this very moment, but at some point in my life I may be faced with an injury or a disease that stem cells may pose the only solution too. A real life example could be a car accident victim who may have spinal cord damage and be faced with partial or full paralysis. Stem cell research would provide them with the only hope they have to regain control. Something I have been wondering while learning more about stem cell research is how many applications it may have in medicine and how many diseases it may be beneficial to. Another thing I was curious about is how stem cell research can be regulated to make sure that these scientific capabilities won't be getting in the wrong hands. Like most scientific discoveries we need to safeguard our knowledge to prevent it from being abused.