Stem cells are known to offer promising results in the treatment of a wide range of diseases. Due to its potential, they have become the basis of new medical treatments. Several critical illnesses, and injuries have been successfully treated by incorporating stem cells in the treatment procedure. In this article, we will learn more about stem cells, its types, possible uses, and related ethical issues.
What Is A Stem Cell?
A stem cell is a type of cell that has the distinctive ability to build specialized types of cells in the body. These cells have the potential to replace tissues, as well as cells that have either got lost, or damaged due to any ailment. Stem cells are specialized cells that have the ability to multiply and provide new cells to meet the growth of the body.
They can divide to generate new cells in the body so as to replace the cells are either lost, or damaged. Based on the requirement, they have the ability to change their form to any other type of cell that forms the the body.
How Does The Stem Cells Work In The Body?
Stem cells are referred to as the master cells of the body. They are called as “blank” cells, or undifferentiated cells in the body. These cells are made up of the raw materials of the body. They are the cells from which other specialized cells are produced. Under the suitable conditions in the laboratory, or body, stem cells multiple to generate more cells named as daughter cells. They can either become specialized cells (via the differentiation process) or form new stem cells (via the self-renewal process).
Differentiation is a process when the cells starts to differentiate and take on a specific task in an organ of the body. These specialized cells perform critical role in a specific organ in the body. For example, red blood cells are explicitly designed to transport oxygen via the blood to various parts of the body.
Blood cells, heart muscle cells, bone cells, and brain cells, comes under this category. Besides stem cells, there is no other cell in the body that has the capability to produce new types of cell in the body.
Where other cells have only a limited ability to multiply before their breakdown, Stem cells have the capability to multiply and create an unlimited number of replicas of themselves. They can choose whether to remain a stem cell or to transform into a differentiated cell.
What Is The Significance Of Stem Cells In Research?
Stem cells are important for doctors to understand the fundamental biology of the working of living cells and how does a disease affect them. This therapy helps in the replacement of broken or lost cells that cannot be replaced by the body on a natural basis.
Research looks forward to understand the attributes of stem cells, the way they develop in the body and how they can be used to replace damaged tissues or cells in the body. The stem cell research also gives an insight on how some cells transform into specialized cells to perform specific tasks in the body.
The research also finds outs the consequences of failure of the process when the cells are affected by a disease. Stem cell development helps in replicating the process for the creation of new tissues, cells, and organ structures within the body and figure out how they work and how they are impacted by varying drugs in the body.
What Is The Origin Of Stem Cells In The Body?
Researchers have found various sources of stem cells in the body. Some of them being:
1. Embryonic stem cells
These are the stem cells that are obtained from embryos of the body. These cells are between three and five days old. They cells are called “pluripotent” that has the ability to divide into more stem cells. They can become any part of cell inside the body. Embryonic stem cells are used for repair or regeneration of diseased organs, and tissue in the body.
2. Adult stem cells
These types of stem cells are present in scarce amount in tissues of the body. One of the examples of it is fat, or bone marrow. Compared to embryonic stem cells, these cells have got a restricted capability to rise to several cells of the body. They have the ability to create several different types of cells. For example, a bone marrow cell has the ability to create heart muscle, or bone cells.
3. Perinatal stem cells
Researchers have found the presence of stem cells in umbilical cord blood, and amniotic fluid. These stem cells have the capability to transform them into specialized cells. Amniotic fluid safeguards a growing fetus in the womb.
Samples of stem cells present in amniotic fluid that are obtained from pregnant women helps in the examination of abnormalities in the fluid. This process is referred to as amniocentesis.
4. Non-embryonic or adult stem cells
Adult stem cells are also present in children, and infants. These stem cells are obtained from the developed tissues and organs in the body. Our body uses them to mend and substitute injured tissue in the same location in which they are present.
5. Induced pluripotent stem cells
It is now possible to convert adult stem cells into pluripotent stem cells. The new cells have the ability to differentiate them into almost all kinds of specialized cells present in the body. This implies that they can generate new cells for any specific tissue, or organ. To create pluripotent cells, scientists will genetically reprogram an adult stem cell so that it behaves in the same way as an embryonic stem cells.
6. Cord blood stem cells
These cells are collected from the umbilical cord after the delivery of the child. They can be preserved under refrigeration for future use. Cord blood stem cells are successfully used in the treatment of leukemia, and specific types of genetic blood disorders in children.
7. Amniotic fluid stem cells
These cells are present in amniotic fluid that surrounds a developing baby in the uterus of the mother.
How Does This Therapy Work?
Stem cell therapy, is defined as regenerative medicine. The newly created stem cells help in repairing dysfunctional, injured, or diseased tissue. These cells are manipulated so that they become specialized to perform specific functions in the organs such as heart, brain etc. They can also be transplanted into the affected organ of the person.
When cells, organs, and tissues get permanently lost, or injured due to any ailment, genetic condition, or injury, Stem cells can be very beneficial. It is one of the ways to generate new cells in the body that can be implanted in the body for the replacement of injured or lost cells.
- For example, if a person suffers from heart ailment, then the cells get injected into the cardiac muscle. These healthy and implanted cells in heart muscles helps in the repair of defective muscles of the heart.
- Adult bone marrow cells can be manipulated to function as heart-like cells that has the ability to repair heart tissues in people.
- Blood stem cells provide a number of healthy blood cells to treat blood condition like thalassaemia.
- It is also beneficial in the treatment of cancer patients who becomes deficient of these cells due to the ongoing treatment.
- Skin stem cells are beneficial to produce new skin for those who suffer from severe burns.
- Stem cells are also useful in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration that leads to loss of sight in people due to cells present in the retina. In those people, induced pluripotent stem cells are used for the production of new RPE cells that when put into the eyes of the patient is helpful in the replacement of the damaged cells.
- Stem cells are effective in generation of new organs to be used in organ transplantation process. In this method, the induced pluripotent stem cells produced by the patient can help in generation of new organs in the body. These organs can replace the damaged organs with low possibilities of getting rejected by the immune system of the body.
Applications Of Stem Cells In The Body
Stem cells have got the potential to convert into several other cells of the body. These cells are beneficial in the treatment of major diseases. Following are the uses of stem cells:
- develop new cells in a lab to replace broken tissues, and organs. Stem cells can be used to produce healthy cells for the replacement of diseased cells in the body. These cells can be directed to form specific cells that can revive and restore damaged, or diseased tissues in people. These cells can be used either as a transplantation or as a regenerative medicine.
- rectify specific parts of organs that are not functioning properly. Stem cell therapy can be advantageous for people who suffer from spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s ailment, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, burns, stroke, osteoarthritis, and cancer.
For example, by reprogramming regular connective tissue cells, they can form functional heart cells that can be used in the treatment of heart ailments. When new heart cells were inserted in people with cardiac failure experienced better cardiac function and survival time.
- helps in finding and treating genetic defects present within cells. Regular adult cells can be successfully converted into stem cells by way of genetic reprogramming. By modifying the genes present in the adult cells, doctors have the ability to reprogram your cells in the body to act in the same way as that of embryonic stem cells. Doctors will be able to use reprogrammed cells in place of embryonic stem cells and thereby prevent rejection of the newly created stem cells by the immune system.
- helps to find the occurrence of diseases in the body. By looking at how stem cells grow into cells in heart muscle, bones, brain nerves, and other tissues, and organs in the body, researchers can get a better idea of how ailments and conditions forms within the body.
- helps to understand the transformation of specific cells into cancer causing cells in the body
- helps in the examination of effectiveness, and safety of new medicines. Before using trial drugs in people, doctors and researchers can use specific kinds of stem cells to effectively test the quality and safety of medicines.
This kind of testing has a direct influence on the development of medicines for cardiac toxicity assessment. To examine the accuracy of new drugs, stem cells should be programmed to obtain properties of the kind of cells that the drug targets. For example, a nerve cell could be produced to examine a new drug to treat a nerve ailment. Tests would tell the efficacy of the new drug on the cells.
Stem cell transplants, or bone marrow transplants are helpful in the treatment of leukemia, neuroblastoma, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma. These types of transplants make use of umbilical cord blood, or adult stem cells in the body.
Embryonic stem cells can also be used for the treatment of a few other medical conditions that includes:
- spinal cord injury
- rheumatoid arthritis
- acute burns
- heart ailment
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- retinal disease
- insertion of manipulated stem cells into the brain organ after a stroke
- to replace injured cells in the inner ear to restore hearing
- alteration of the stem cell genes to make them resistant towards diseases, like AIDS. These cells are injected into patients with this disease
- generating stem cells to restore the brittleness in bones of osteoporosis patients
Are There Any Risks Related To The Use Of Adult Stem Cells?
Though research on adult stem cells gives hopeful results, but they are not as adaptable and robust as embryonic stem cells. These cells can’t be modified to generate all types of cells. This limits their ability of how an adult stem cell is useful for the treatment of an ailment. Adult stem cells contain irregularities in them due to environmental hazards, that includes toxins, or errors obtained by the cells in the process of replication.
The research has proved that Stem cells have the potential to make a major impact on health of human beings. The new advancement of changing adult stem cells into pluripotent stem cells eliminate the requirement for embryonic stem cells. In spite of such advancements, there is a lot more research that is needed to be performed before scientists are able to create successful treatments using stem cell therapy.
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