The smart way to improve grades

Comprehensive & curriculum aligned

Try an activity or get started for free

Consider the Uses of Stem Cells

In this worksheet, students will consider the potential functions of stem cells.

'Consider the Uses of Stem Cells' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   Biology: Single Subject, Biology: Combined Science

GCSE Boards:   OCR 21st Century

Curriculum topic:   Using Food and Controlling Growth

Curriculum subtopic:   Should We Use Stem Cells to Treat Damage and Disease?

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Image of a human embryo

 

The alien lookalike above is actually a picture of an embryo at around six weeks old! A zygote is formed when an egg is fertilised by a sperm. After fertilisation the zygote starts to divide, it's now called an embryo. When the embryo reaches the eight-cell stage, all the cells are identical to each other and have the ability to become any type of cell. They're embryonic stem cells. These can stay as stem cells or become differentiated (specialised) to become another type of cell such as a muscle cell, red blood cell or a nerve cell. Sometimes, you will find adult stem cells among the differentiated cells - these can become differentiated later on. 

 

Image showing uses of stem cells

 

Function of stem cells

 

Our chromosomes have thousands of genes that can code for many proteins. We don’t need all of these genetic codes to be active all of the time in our body cells, so they're switched off. This way the cell only produces the proteins it needs to function.

Specialised cells produce specific proteins because the genes coding for these proteins are activated or switched on. Embryonic stem cells are able to differentiate into any cell type. This is because any of the genes in their chromosomes are able to be switched on. 

Stem cells are important for many reasons. In the embryo, stem cells will develop into the whole body of the organism, including all of the organs such as the heart, lungs, skin and other tissues and cells. In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, adult stem cells are used to replace cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury or disease. 

 

 

Uses of stem cells

 

The fact that stem cells can undergo cell division and become differentiated to any cell type, makes stem cells really interesting to scientists. It opens the door to potential new treatments to replace cells lost to injury and disease, and research may help to develop alternatives to organ transplants and also to enable testing of the effects of new drugs. 

Embryonic stem cells can be used in research to help scientists develop new cells to replace damaged or diseased cells. The stem cells could be injected into damaged organs to rebuild the tissues. This would reduce the need for organ transplants. The stem cells would need to have the same genes as the patient, otherwise they would be rejected by the patient’s immune system. They would need to be clones. The DNA of an embryo cell can be replaced with the DNA from a patient’s cell. The embryo produces stem cells containing the patient’s genes. The cells will not be rejected, so immune-suppressing drugs are not needed. This process is called therapeutic cloning.

 

 

Risks

 

There are some risks involved in stem cell treatment:

There's a risk of infections from the operations involved, or from infected stem cells. 

There's a risk that tumours may form due to uncontrolled cell division.

There's a risk of damage to organs - stem cells implanted into damaged tissue may move to healthy areas and cause damage to those areas.

There's also a risk that the person's own immune system rejects the stem cells from another person and they are destroyed by their white blood cells.

 


Ethical issues

 

There are different types of issues depending on the type of cells involved. With embryonic stem cells and therapeutically-cloned stem cells,​  the issue of using embryos can be a sensitive topic. Often, the issue of whether it's right or wrong to use embryos for research or for therapy poses an ethical dilemma. 

To obtain embryonic stem cells, the early embryo may have to be destroyed. Some people's religious or personal beliefs view the embryo as representing life and that it should only be used to create a baby. People may view the early embryo as a person and therefore believe it has the same rights as any other living person. Others may believe the embryo isn't a person as it doesn't share any features or properties with people. 

So you can see, it's quite a complicated situation with no clear right or wrong answer! That's the thing with ethical issues, they will vary from person to person as they are dependent on personal values, morals and beliefs.

Because of this, in many countries the government regulates the use of stem cells in research and medicines. The government will help oversee whether the benefits of stem cell use outweigh the risks. As mentioned above, there are many risks involved when using stem cells. If there are too many risks and not many benefits, stem cell research or therapy could be rejected. It all depends on individual cases.

 In science, obtaining a balanced view is important and often there is no one correct answer. 

 

Stem cells are not only found in animals, but plants too. Let's find out more below.

 

Image of plants meristem regions

 

 

In plant cells, cell division only happens in certain areas called meristems. Meristems are found at the tips of roots and shoots and in between the xylem and the phloem tissues. The cells in the meristem can divide over and over again to produce non-specialised cells. Some of these cells continue to divide, allowing the plant to grow taller and wider throughout its life.

Other non-specialised cells that are produced at the meristem can develop into any type of specialised plant cell and go on to form phloem, xylem, leaves and flowers. This activity contributes to plant growth and development.

As with human stem cells, plant meristem cells have many uses too. For example, they can be used to produce clones of plants very quickly and economically. Also, plants that have special features such as being disease resistant or frost resistant can be cloned to produce lots of crops.  Another use is to protect rare plant species from extinction by cloning them.

 

In the following activity, we will consider the functions and uses of stem cells.

What do we call a cell that will switch on specific genes to become differentiated?

Which of the following could potentially be a use for stem cell treatment?

 

Image showing uses of stem cells

To treat chickenpox

To replace cells lost through disease

To create organs for transplant

To replace burned tissue

When an egg is fertilised by a sperm, it will start dividing where it forms an embryo. It will reach the eight-cell stage.

 

What is important about the eight-cell stage of an embryo?

 

Image of egg and sperm cells

To treat chickenpox

To replace cells lost through disease

To create organs for transplant

To replace burned tissue

Stem cells have lots of uses in medical treatment.

 

Match the stem cells with their potential uses.  

 

Image showing uses of stem cells

Column A

Column B

Nerve cells
Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries
Heart muscle cells
Burns and ulcers
Insulin-secreting cells
Damage caused by a heart attack
Skin cells
Some kinds of blindness
Retina cells
Diabetes

Scientists have invested a lot of time researching plant meristems. 

 

Why are scientists so interested in plant meristems?

 

Image of a plants meristem region

 

Scientists just want to know everything

Plants can be cloned quickly

It is cheaper to clone plants using meristem cells

Rare species of plant can be cloned and protected from extinction

Stem cells can be used in medical treatment. One of these processes is known as therapeutic cloning.

 

Describe this process by matching up the sentences below.

Column A

Column B

Stem cells could be injected into damaged organs t...
...therapeutic cloning
The stem cells would need to have the same genes a...
...This would reduce the need for organ transplant...
The DNA of an embryo cell can be replaced...
...With the DNA from a patient’s cell
The embryo produces stem cells containing the pati...
...The cells will not be rejected so immune-suppre...
This process is called...
...Otherwise they would be rejected by the patient...

There are risks involved when using stem cells for treatment.

 

Which of the following are risks?

New cells will be made to replace damaged cells

Infection from operations

Stem cells rebuild tissues in damaged organs

Tumours may form because of uncontrolled cell division

Why is the use of embryonic stem cells controversial? 

Some embryos are discarded once the stem cells have been removed

Stem cells are unspecialised cells

Stem cells can be found in embryos

Embryos might develop into a human life

Some people don't think it's right to use embryos for their stem cells.

 

Read through the statements below and select two statements that don't agree with embryonic stem cell use. 

Scientists believe the best stem cells come from embryos

Stem cells could be used to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and diabetes

Some types of stem cells can be taken from other places, including adult tissues, without the need to kill embryos

Embryos are living and using them for research is the same as murder

There are two types of stem cells - embryonic and adult stem cells.

 

What are some of the differences between the two types of cells? 

  • Question 1

What do we call a cell that will switch on specific genes to become differentiated?

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Hopefully, you got this one correct since it is in the title of the activity! Stem cells will switch on genes when they are needed in order to provide a specific protein. Embryonic stem cells are able to differentiate into any cell type because any of their genes are able to be switched on.
  • Question 2

Which of the following could potentially be a use for stem cell treatment?

 

Image showing uses of stem cells

CORRECT ANSWER
To replace cells lost through disease
To create organs for transplant
To replace burned tissue
EDDIE SAYS
There was only one incorrect option in this question - stem cells will not be any use in helping to deal with the pathogens that cause chickenpox. The other three options were all correct. Stem cells can develop into many different cell types, so they have the potential to be used in research to help scientists develop new cells to replace damaged or diseased cells.
  • Question 3

When an egg is fertilised by a sperm, it will start dividing where it forms an embryo. It will reach the eight-cell stage.

 

What is important about the eight-cell stage of an embryo?

 

Image of egg and sperm cells

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
It's always harder to answer fill in the blank questions because you're not given any options to choose from. Did you get the specific words that were needed to gain the mark? Embryonic stem cells are super important. At the eight-cell stage, all of the cells are identical and can become differentiated or they can stay as stem cells. The stem cells support the development of the embryo by differentiating into nerve cells or muscle cells, for example.
  • Question 4

Stem cells have lots of uses in medical treatment.

 

Match the stem cells with their potential uses.  

 

Image showing uses of stem cells

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Nerve cells
Parkinson’s disease and spinal ...
Heart muscle cells
Damage caused by a heart attack
Insulin-secreting cells
Diabetes
Skin cells
Burns and ulcers
Retina cells
Some kinds of blindness
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all up correctly? If you found it challenging, the best thing is to start with the ones that are obvious - such as heart muscles and heart attacks, or skin and burns. It then becomes much easier to do the ones that are left. If scientists are able to produce different types of cells from stem cells, they might be able to use them to treat a variety of diseases and disorders. For example, by producing insulin-secreting cells in patients, they will no longer have type 1 diabetes.
  • Question 5

Scientists have invested a lot of time researching plant meristems. 

 

Why are scientists so interested in plant meristems?

 

Image of a plants meristem region

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Plants can be cloned quickly
It is cheaper to clone plants using meristem cells
Rare species of plant can be cloned and protected from extinction
EDDIE SAYS
This time there were three correct answers. Did you get them all? Although it's true scientists do want to learn about everything, they are interested in meristems because there are quite a few benefits to humans. Because of their meristems, plants can be cloned quickly and cheaply. This is really useful, especially in countries affected by famine. Plants with special features like disease resistance can also be cloned. This will be particularly useful for crop plants. Also, any plants that are rare can be protected from extinction by producing more of them. Can you see just how important this stem cell research could be?
  • Question 6

Stem cells can be used in medical treatment. One of these processes is known as therapeutic cloning.

 

Describe this process by matching up the sentences below.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Stem cells could be injected into...
...This would reduce the need for...
The stem cells would need to have...
...Otherwise they would be reject...
The DNA of an embryo cell can be ...
...With the DNA from a patient’...
The embryo produces stem cells co...
...The cells will not be rejected...
This process is called...
...therapeutic cloning
EDDIE SAYS
How did you get on with this one? Again, match the ones you know first so that you have fewer doubtful options to choose from. Therapeutic cloning is an example of stem cells being used in medical treatment. The benefit of using your own stem cells means that there is no rejection by your own immune system and no need to find a donor, making treatment a lot easier.
  • Question 7

There are risks involved when using stem cells for treatment.

 

Which of the following are risks?

CORRECT ANSWER
Infection from operations
Tumours may form because of uncontrolled cell division
EDDIE SAYS
There were two examples of benefits and two of risks in the options provided. Did you choose the correct two? Medical treatments are never free of risk - often it's a matter of weighing up the benefits and risks before proceeding with treatment. With stem cells, because cells are dividing, there is a chance of uncontrolled cell division. There may also be a risk of disease transmission from donors, as well as infection risks when being operated on.
  • Question 8

Why is the use of embryonic stem cells controversial? 

CORRECT ANSWER
Some embryos are discarded once the stem cells have been removed
Embryos might develop into a human life
EDDIE SAYS
The were two correct options here. The middle two options were not examples of a controversy since they are simple facts that everyone would agree with. The first and final options, however, are examples of people disagreeing with the ethics of stem cell research. To keep things exciting when it comes to stem cells, there's some controversy involved. There are different types of issues depending on the type of cells involved. Often, with embryonic stem cells and therapeutically-cloned stem cells, the issue of using embryos can be a sensitive topic. In science, obtaining a balanced view is important and often there is no one correct answer.
  • Question 9

Some people don't think it's right to use embryos for their stem cells.

 

Read through the statements below and select two statements that don't agree with embryonic stem cell use. 

CORRECT ANSWER
Some types of stem cells can be taken from other places, including adult tissues, without the need to kill embryos
Embryos are living and using them for research is the same as murder
EDDIE SAYS
Decisions based on your personal beliefs are known as ethical issues. There are no right or wrong answers. Use of embryonic stem cells is always a controversial topic, as many people believe that the embryo has a right to life and should not be discarded after use.
  • Question 10

There are two types of stem cells - embryonic and adult stem cells.

 

What are some of the differences between the two types of cells? 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you remember the differences between them? Remember embryonic cells are from the embryo, so are going to be identical and undifferentiated (at least up to the eight-cell stage). They can differentiate into lots of different types of cells. Adult stem cells can't differentiate as widely as embryonic cells and they're harder to find, as there's not many of them in adult tissues. Another activity completed - well done for reaching the end of this challenging set of questions.
---- OR ----

Get started for free so you can track and measure your child's progress on this activity.

What is EdPlace?

We're your National Curriculum aligned online education content provider helping each child succeed in English, maths and science from year 1 to GCSE. With an EdPlace account you’ll be able to track and measure progress, helping each child achieve their best. We build confidence and attainment by personalising each child’s learning at a level that suits them.

Get started
laptop

Try an activity or get started for free