Stem cells are special human cells that are able to develop into many different cell types. This can range from muscle cells to brain cells.
In some cases, they can also fix damaged tissues. Researchers believe that stem cell-based therapies may one day be used to treat serious illnesses such as paralysis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Types of stem cells
Stem cells are divided into 2 main forms. They are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cells used in research today come from unused embryos. These result from an in vitro fertilization procedure. They are donated to science. These embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. This means that they can turn into more than one type of cell.
Adult stem cells. There are 2 types of adult stem cells. One type comes from fully developed tissues such as the brain, skin, and bone marrow. There are only small numbers of stem cells in these tissues. They are more likely to generate only certain types of cells. For example, a stem cell that comes from the liver will only make more liver cells.
The second type is induced pluripotent stem cells. These are adult stem cells that have been changed in a lab to be more like embryonic stem cells. Scientists first reported that human stem cells could be changed in this way in 2006. Induced pluripotent stem cells don’t seem to be different from embryonic stem cells, but scientists have not yet found one that can develop every kind of cell and tissue.
Stem cells in medicine
The only stem cells now used to treat disease are hematopoietic stem cells. These are the blood cell-forming adult stem cells found in the bone marrow. Every type of blood cell in the bone marrow starts as a stem cell. Stem cells are immature cells that are able to make other blood cells that mature and function as needed.
Femur with a section cut out to show marrow. The callout shows blood cell types.
These cells are used in procedures such as bone marrow transplants. These help people with cancer make new blood cells after their own hematopoietic stem cells have been killed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy. They may also be used to treat people with conditions such as Fanconi anemia. This is a blood disorder that causes the body’s bone marrow to fail.a
Stem cells may help your health in the future in many ways and through many new treatments. Researchers think that stem cells will be used to help create new tissue. For example, one-day healthcare providers may be able to treat people with chronic heart disease.
They can do this by growing healthy heart muscle cells in a lab and transplanting them into damaged hearts. Other treatments could target illnesses such as type 1 diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. New medicines could also be tested on cells made from pluripotent stem cells.
Unique abilities of stem cells
Clinical trials that use stem cell therapies are currently being done in the U.S. If you are interested in trying this therapy to treat a certain condition, ask your healthcare provider how to find out about trials available in your area.
Stem cells have the unique ability to self-renew or to differentiate into various cell types in response to appropriate signals. These properties provide stem cells with powerful capabilities for tissue repair, replacement, and regeneration, so human stem cells are of special interest in medical research.
Embryonic stem cells have the ability to differentiate into more cell types than adult stem cells. Differentiation is triggered by various factors in vivo, some of which can be replicated in vitro stem cell cultures.
The nature of stem cells necessitates the use of special stem cell culture media and reagents. Since suboptimal media may change the differentiation potential of stem cells, it is vital to select the correct stem cell-validated media and reagents at the start of your research process.
Stem cells can be cultured like any other cell line, provided that the right stem cell-qualified media, reagents, and conditions are employed. Some stem cell lines are immortal and can be cultured indefinitely in the lab, but many are not. It is therefore critical to consider these options before initiating stem cell culture.
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