The miraculous uses of stem cells in medicine
Since their first discovery at the beginning of the 20th century, researchers have found out numerous uses of stem cells in medicine. Due to their ability to rejuvenate the body and regenerate damaged tissues, stem cells have been studied and utilized extensively to better understand and treat diseases.
Why stem cells should be used
Stem cells are unique in that they can multiply endlessly and transform into numerous cell types (cardiac muscle cells, blood cells, neurons, etc.) under the right circumstances. In addition, their immunomodulatory properties allow them to regenerate damaged tissues and strengthen the immune system. Thanks to these features, stem cells provide a potential, yet reliable answer to damage and loss of cells caused by aging, injuries, and diseases.
The discovery of stem cells has given rise to a new branch of medicine: regenerative medicine. Scientists have been studying them in the laboratory to further uncover the potential uses of stem cells. There are many types of stem cells; however, most current studies and clinical trials are revolved around the use of adult stem cells.
Source: Medical News Today
What can stem cells do?
The uses of stem cells stem from their unique features. No matter what the source is, stem cells come with the following properties:
1. They can divide and renew themselves endlessly
Unlike certain body cells such as heart muscle, blood, and nerve cells, stem cells are capable of replicating multiple times. Within a few months of cultivation in the laboratory, a small sample of stem cells can turn into millions of cells. This unlimited proliferation capability has prompted scientists to conduct further research to better understand the mechanism of conditions like cancer.
2. They have not adopted any specific function in the body yet
Most of our body cells are assigned to certain tasks. For example, heart muscle cells act to pump blood, while red blood cells help deliver oxygen. Stem cells, on the other hand, do not come with tissue-specific structures; hence, they do not have any specialized functions. This “undifferentiated” state is the genesis of the multiple uses of stem cells in medicine.
3. They can produce specialized functional cells
The above-mentioned lack of functionality is what makes stem cells special – under the proper conditions, they can turn into the specialized cells necessary for the body. This process is known as “differentiation”.
The differentiation process consists of several stages, which are triggered by internal and external signals. These signals are associated with the cell’s genes, as well as certain chemicals and molecules. The interaction of these signals allows the cell’s DNA to develop epigenetic marks, which are passed on via cell division. By learning about the steps of differentiation, scientists hope that they can better develop cell-based therapies and drug screening techniques.
The differentiation capability of stem cells is not universal. For example, hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow can only create new blood cells, but not different functional ones such as neurons. Hence, the specific uses of stem cells may vary from type to type.
What are stem cells used for?
Stem cells come with the potential to create new cells and tissues, which provides a nice alternative to traditional organ transplantation procedures. For years, the lack of donated organs has been a nightmare for doctors and patients who are in need of organ replacement. As stem cells can differentiate into the essential cell types, they can be used as a potential substitute. On the other hand, their regenerative properties make these cells a promising answer to several other diseases and chronic conditions – including macular degeneration (AMD), spinal cord injury, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, etc.
The uses of stem cells in medicine are even greater than that. Health conditions such as cancer result from abnormalities that occur during cell division and differentiation. Hence, studies on stem cells allow scientists to better understand this process, thereby uncovering the causes of these diseases and how to treat them. In addition, these cells also provide a potential basis for the development of new medications.
How can stem cells be used to treat diseases and injuries
Stem cells are first collected and cultivated in order to differentiate into the necessary functional cells. After that, they are transplanted into the patient’s body – either via an autologous or allogeneic transplant – to fulfill one of the following purposes:
- Repair neural damage caused by neurological disorders (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury).
- Regenerate beta cells in the pancreas and stimulate the production of insulin, hence aid in curing diabetes.
- Repair cartilage damaged that occurs due to arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders.
- Regenerate damaged organs and tissues.
- Differentiate into cardiac muscle cells, hence providing a solution to damage caused by a heart attack.
Theoretically, the number of diseases that stem cells can cure is virtually limitless. With additional research, more uses of stem cells have been unveiled. Due to these cells’ miraculous effects, scientists have been studying them in order to create new medications.
Uses of stem cells – Regenerating heart muscles using adult stem cells
Source: US National Institutes of Health
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Stem cells: What they are and what they do. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bone-marrow-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art-20048117. Accessed on December 10, 2019.
What are stem cells, and what do they do? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323343.php. Accessed on December 10, 2019.
Types of stem cells and their uses. https://www.eurostemcell.org/types-stem-cells-and-their-uses. Accessed on December 10, 2019.
Stem Cell Research. https://www.healthline.com/health/stem-cell-research. Accessed on December 10, 2019.