Stem cells are the body’s raw materials cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells. Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
Stem cells are distinguished from other cell types by two important characteristics. First, they are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through cell division, sometimes after long periods of inactivity. Second, under certain physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions. In some organs, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues. In other organs, however, such as the pancreas and the heart, stem cells only divide under special conditions.
Until recently, scientists primarily worked with two kinds of stem cells from animals and humans: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
As we look to our future, we find technology and scientific breakthroughs moving us forward in ways we never expected. This ongoing discovery has given rise to a new alternative method of treatment, a new way of managing our lives. Stem cell therapy has become one of the most exciting and promising fields in biological science today. Advancements in stem cell therapy give us the ability to manage our wellness so we can live fuller and healthier lives with our loved ones.
Stem cells represent an exciting area in medicine because of their potential to regenerate and repair damaged tissue. Some current therapies, such as bone marrow transplantation, already make use of stem cells and their potential for regeneration of damaged tissues. Other therapies are under investigation that involves transplanting stem cells into a damaged body part and directing them to grow and differentiate into healthy tissue.
Stem cells have the ability to replace damaged cells and treat disease
This property is already used in the treatment of extensive burns, and to restore the blood system in patients with blood disorders.
Stem cells may also hold the key to replacing cells lost in many other devastating diseases for which there are currently no sustainable cures. Today, donated tissues and organs are often used to replace damaged tissue, but the need for transplantable tissues and organs far outweighs the available supply. Stem cells, if they can be directed to differentiate into specific cell types, offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including Parkinson’s, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. This prospect is an exciting one, but significant technical hurdles remain that will only be overcome through years of intensive research.