In this article, you’ll learn and discover how stem cells can be used to help the sick – people suffering from diseases and injuries.
Stem cells were first discovered in 1981. Since then, scientists have been working to determine if treatments derived from stem cells could be used in the treatment of several conditions.
Stem cells could be a new treatment option for diseases that damage the body’s cells as they are; put simply, the body’s building blocks. Depending on the conditions they grow in, stem cells can grow and divide into either more stem cells or a new cell with a specific function. This cell division is how all the cells in the body, from bones to muscles to eyes, are formed. How can stem cells be used to treat diseases and injuries?
Stem Cell Treatments
Scientists and medical professionals think that eventually, we might be able to use stem cells to simply replace diseased cells in the body, as they can be encouraged to develop into specific cell types. They might even one day be able to grow entirely new bodily tissues, maybe even organs, for use in transplants. The possibilities could be endless, but much of the research has a long way to go.
Diseases that could eventually be treated with stem cells include Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. They could also eventually be used to test the safety of new drugs and medications, in place of human clinical trials. The stem cells would first be developed into the specific cell type the drug works on, and then tests would show if the new drug had any effect. Again, research into these techniques is reasonably new.
Currently, the only stem cell transplant performed in mainstream medicine is the bone marrow transplant, used in the treatment of certain types of leukemia and lymphoma. Stem cells found in bone marrow boost the blood and immune cells damaged by either the disease or the chemotherapy used to treat it.
Types of Stem Cells
There are several types of human stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells come from embryos that are only a few days old and made up of only about 150 cells. These cells can either divide into more stem cells or develop into any cell type. The embryos are donated to science by people who have gone through IVF and have embryos that weren’t implanted. They aren’t currently used due to ethical concerns.
Perinatal stem cells are found in amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood. Like embryonic stem cells, these stem cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells.
Adult stem cells are found in most body tissues. Because they are found in fully-formed cells, they are less flexible than embryonic stem cells, although more recent research seems to suggest that some adult stem cells may be able to develop into other cell types. Adult stem cells can also be altered to have the unique properties of embryonic stem cells, but this can only happen in a laboratory. The potential side effects of using these cells are currently unknown.
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