What Are Stem Cells? Everything You Need to Know About Stem Cells
Various cells have various purposes within the body, whereas stem cells are a relatively new concept to oncology that do not have a specific role yet but can evolve into any type of cell in case of need. Here is everything you need to know about stem cells, including what stem cells are, what are some of the most common types of stem cells, what function they perform, and what kind of uses they have in modern medicine.
What is a Stem Cell?
A stem cell is actually the term used to refer to the body’s raw material – cells from which all of the other cells are generated and therefore gain specialized function. Stem cells divide to form more cells provided the right conditions, in which these divided cells are referred to as “daughter cells.” Modern-day stem cells research has proven a variety of medical fields they can be used in, from generating healthy organ tissue to battling cancer.
How Are Stem Cells Formed?
Stem cells types can be categorized by their sources: embryos and adult body tissues. There has been ongoing research in the medical community on ways to develop stem cells from other cells with the assistance of genetic reprogramming techniques. Let’s take a close look at the types of stem cells that may help comprehend the stem cell definition better:
Adult Stem Cells
The human body generates and contains stem cells throughout life, and the body chooses to use these stem cells whenever it sees fit. Adult stem cells can also be referred to as somatic stem cells or tissue-specific cells and can exist throughout the body from the time an embryo begins to develop.
While these cells are considered in a non-specific state, they have a more specialized function when compared to embryonic stem cells. Stem cells remain in this non-specific condition until the body requires them for a specific cause, such as muscle or skin cells. Our daily life requires the body to constantly renew tissues, where the stem cells function comes in. They regularly divide in order to procreate new body tissue for repair and general maintenance.
The brain, bone marrow, blood, blood vessels, skin, liver, and skeletal muscles are only a few of the bodily tissues that stem cells can be found in. However, it is a known fact that stem cells are quite hard to locate. Until the body summons them to repair a certain area, stem cells can stay non-specific and undivided for years at a time.
Embryonic Stem Cells
Another popular term you might come across when researching stem cells is “stem cells embryonic.” The origin of embryonic stem cells goes back to the very earliest stage of pregnancy. During this time, the sperm fertilizes the egg, and an embryo begins to form. 3 – 5 days after that, the embryo forms into a ball of cells containing stem cells that will later be transformed into the womb.
Embryonic stem cells are usually formed from a ball of cells – also known as a blastocyst – that is around 4 – 5 days old. This is a common technique used during IVF, where the doctors first fertilize several eggs within a test tube, make sure that at least one survives, then implant a limited number of eggs into the womb in order to kickstart the pregnancy.
The blastocyst that forms after the embryo is implanted into the uterus consists of two parts: an outer mass attached to the placenta and an inner mass that develops into the human baby. Embryonic stem cells are found in the inner cell mass, and with the right stimulation, these cells can be transformed into skin cells, blood cells, and any other cell types that the body may need for healing and repair.
Mesenchymal stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells are the other sources of stem cells neurons that can be stumbled upon in medical literature.
What Are the Different Types of Stem Cells?
Different types of stem cells are usually categorized in accordance with their potential to transform into other types of cells. Totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent, oligopotent, and unipotent are the most common stem cell types listed in the classification. While embryonic stem cells are considered the most potent of all, they are considered pluripotent due to the fact that they cannot become a part of the extra-embryonic membranes in any way. Their job is mainly to become every type of cell in the body and act as a wild card in emergencies.
Totipotent cells can differentiate into almost all possible cell types, while pluripotent cells usually form at the early embryo stage. Multipotent stem cells can only differentiate into a few different types of cells, such as adult lymphoid or myeloid stem cells. Unipotent cells, on the other hand, can only produce cells of one kind and of their own type. These types of stem cells are still considered in the “stem cell” category since they can renew themselves.
Various Uses of Stem Cells
There are numerous stem cell uses in modern-day medicine that can be qualified as significant for various reasons. First of all, many stem cells can take on the role of any type of cells under the right circumstances, and with the right stimulation, therefore can regenerate damaged tissue organically. This is a major element in saving lives and repairing damaged tissue and wounds after an illness or a serious injury. Here are some of the most common uses and stem cell benefits today:
This is hands-down the most effective use of stem cells in modern medicine, in which stem cells act as an agent to grow a specific type of tissue or organ. This drastically changes the shortage of organ donors, where a patient would have to wait for a donor for a long time and then undergo an organ transplant for, say, a new kidney.
Cardiovascular Disease Treatment
A 2013 research conducted on laboratory mice has shown that stem cells can form networks of blood-perfused vessels within two weeks of implementation. Scientists hope that this technique can be used to treat patients with cardiovascular diseases.
Brain Disease Treatment
Stem cells may be used in order to treat brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkison’s, where the damaged brain cells can be replaced with new stem cells and bring back the uncontrolled muscle movement or replenish the damaged brain tissue. Research is already underway with differentiating embryonic stem cells into these types of cells.
Cell Deficiency Treatment
Developing healthy heart cells is quite possible with the help of stem cells. These new cells can repopulate the heart with healthy tissue, therefore, repair major heart damage. In addition, pancreatic cells can be transported to patients with type I diabetes in order to replace the insulin-producing cells and create their own immune system.
Blood Disease Treatment
Adult hematopoietic stem cells are now actively being used in order to treat diseases such as leukemia, anemia, and other similar immunodeficiency illnesses. These types of stem cells can be found in the bone marrow and in blood and are able to produce all types of blood cells, specifically red blood cells that carry oxygen and white blood cells that are expert at fighting such diseases.
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