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Describe Uses of Stem Cells

In this worksheet, students will describe the uses of stem cells in medicine.

'Describe Uses of Stem Cells' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   Life and Environmental Sciences

GCSE Boards:   AQA Synergy

Curriculum topic:   Interactions With the Environment

Curriculum subtopic:   Preventing, Treating and Curing Diseases

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. All the cells are identical to each other and can 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

 

The function of stem cells

 

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 damaged blood cells and can be used to treat conditions such as leukaemia.

 

 

Uses of stem cells

 

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

 

Cancers such as leukaemia, which affects white blood cells, can be treated using stem cells. Bone marrow transplant involves destroying damaged or diseased blood cells and replacing them with healthy adult stem cells from the bone marrow. 

 

Most medical uses of stem cells are still experimental. Treatments are still being researched for treating diseases such as:

Heart disease -  by using the patient’s own stem cells from bone marrow to replace damaged cells in the heart.
Type 1 diabetes - by using stem cells to replace damaged cells in the pancreas to produce insulin.

 

 

Risks

 

The properties of stem cells are not fully understood. This means that 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 that it could cause damage to organs - stem cells implanted into damaged tissue might move to healthy areas and cause damage to those areas.
There's also a risk that the person's own immune system will reject the stem cells from another person, and that their white blood cells will destroy them.

 

 

Ethical issues

 

There are different types of issues depending on the type of cells involved. Often, with embryonic stem cells, the issue of using embryos can be a sensitive topic. Some people's religious or personal beliefs view the embryo as representing life and that it should only be used to create a baby. In science, obtaining a balanced view is important and often there is no one correct answer. 

 

In the following activity, you will describe stem cells and some of their uses in medicine.

What are embryonic stem cells?

Stem cell treatment has many potential uses.

 

Which of the following can be used to accurately complete the sentence below? 

 

Image showing uses of stem cells

 

 Stem cells have the potential to be used...

To treat chickenpox

To replace cells lost through disease

To create organs for transplant

To replace burned tissue

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

 

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

When an egg is fertilised by a sperm, it will start dividing and will form an embryo.

 

Why are embryonic stem cells so important to scientists?

 

Image of egg and sperm cells

Embryonic stem cells are taken from an embryo.

 

Where are adult stem cells found?

Umbilical cord

Embryo

Nucleus

Bone marrow

Adult stem cells are just as important as embryonic stem cells and have an important role in the human body.

 

Are the following statements about adult stem cells true or false?

Match up the key terms with their definitions. 

Column A

Column B

Embryonic stem cell
A genetically identical copy
Adult stem cell
Cells from the embryo that can form any type of ce...
Differentiate
To undergo change to become specialised, for examp...
Risk
Cells from adult tissue that can form some types o...
Clone
The chance of something bad happening

There are risks involved when using stem cells for treatment.

 

What are some of these risks?

Infection from operations

Stem cells rebuild tissues in damaged organs

Tumours may form because of uncontrolled cell division

New cells will be made to replace damaged cells

Andrew is in year 11 and learning about stem cells. He has learned that fetal stem cells are taken from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. Andrew thinks it's better to take stem cells from an umbilical cord rather than an embryo. He believes it's wrong to interfere with a growing embryo.

 

What is a decision or opinion based on your personal beliefs called?

 

Image of teenage boy

Theory

Hypothesis

Ethics

Conclusion

Type 1 diabetes is a life long condition that affects many people. Diabetics often inject insulin on a daily basis. Stem cell research has potential benefits to diabetics.

 

What might be some of these benefits?

 

Image of a syringe

Pancreas will produce adrenaline

Injecting insulin won't be needed

Injecting insulin will still be needed

Pancreas will produce insulin

  • Question 1

What are embryonic stem cells?

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
This was a pretty tough question to start with, wasn't it? Don't worry if you weren't sure of the missing words - the more you learn about this topic, the easier it will become to remember the correct language needed to explain it scientifically. Most embryonic stem cells will differentiate into cell types that the embryo needs to develop. Some of the embryonic stem cells won't differentiate and will remain as stem cells to be used later on.
  • Question 2

Stem cell treatment has many potential uses.

 

Which of the following can be used to accurately complete the sentence below? 

 

Image showing uses of stem cells

 

 Stem cells have the potential to be used...

CORRECT ANSWER
To replace cells lost through disease
To create organs for transplant
To replace burned tissue
EDDIE SAYS
There were actually three correct options here. Did you get them all? Stem cells can develop into many different cell types, so they have the potential to be used in research to help scientists to develop new cells which could replace damaged or diseased cells.
  • Question 3

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

 

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

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
There were lots to match here, and some difficult descriptions. How did you get on with them? Remember that embryonic cells are from the embryo, so they 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, however, can't differentiate as widely as embryonic cells, and they're harder to find as there are not many of them in adult tissues.
  • Question 4

When an egg is fertilised by a sperm, it will start dividing and will form an embryo.

 

Why are embryonic stem cells so important to scientists?

 

Image of egg and sperm cells

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do with this one? 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 5

Embryonic stem cells are taken from an embryo.

 

Where are adult stem cells found?

CORRECT ANSWER
Umbilical cord
Bone marrow
EDDIE SAYS
Did you get both options correct here? You can think of adult stem cells as originating from anywhere other than from an embryo. So, as long as stem cells are not taken from an embryo, they're usually referred to as 'adult'. Adult stem cells can still be found in children and not just actual adults! Adult stem cells are typically found in bone marrow or umbilical cord blood (sometimes called fetal stem cells) but can really be found almost anywhere like the heart or liver. Take a deep breath, you've got this!
  • Question 6

Adult stem cells are just as important as embryonic stem cells and have an important role in the human body.

 

Are the following statements about adult stem cells true or false?

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Adult stem cells don't get as much recognition as embryonic stem cells but they're really important too! Without them, we wouldn't be able to renew our cells if they become damaged, for example. Remember, adult stem cells are found in everyone, children as well as adults.
  • Question 7

Match up the key terms with their definitions. 

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Embryonic stem cell
Cells from the embryo that can fo...
Adult stem cell
Cells from adult tissue that can ...
Differentiate
To undergo change to become speci...
Risk
The chance of something bad happe...
Clone
A genetically identical copy
EDDIE SAYS
There are quite a few new terms in this topic of stem cells, so it's always useful to test yourself to make sure you're confident in using these key words. If you're still finding this challenging, you could always read the Introduction once more and maybe have another go at the questions. Another activity ticked off - brilliant stuff!
  • Question 8

There are risks involved when using stem cells for treatment.

 

What are some of these risks?

CORRECT ANSWER
Infection from operations
Tumours may form because of uncontrolled cell division
EDDIE SAYS
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 9

Andrew is in year 11 and learning about stem cells. He has learned that fetal stem cells are taken from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. Andrew thinks it's better to take stem cells from an umbilical cord rather than an embryo. He believes it's wrong to interfere with a growing embryo.

 

What is a decision or opinion based on your personal beliefs called?

 

Image of teenage boy

CORRECT ANSWER
Ethics
EDDIE SAYS
All of these options seem plausible, don't they? Each one of the options above is to do with ideas, but there is only one that concerns personal feelings of whether or not something is morally right. Ethical opinions, or someone's ethics, are based on one's personal beliefs, so that there is no one right or wrong answer. People may have different opinions based on their religion or culture.
  • Question 10

Type 1 diabetes is a life long condition that affects many people. Diabetics often inject insulin on a daily basis. Stem cell research has potential benefits to diabetics.

 

What might be some of these benefits?

 

Image of a syringe

CORRECT ANSWER
Injecting insulin won't be needed
Pancreas will produce insulin
EDDIE SAYS
There were two answers to tick this time. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn't make the hormone insulin. Diabetics will have to inject insulin throughout the day. The insulin stops the levels of glucose getting too high, which can be extremely dangerous. Stem cell treatment could offer a potential cure for type 1 diabetics.
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