What Are Stem Cells, And What Do They Do?

written bySteven Jackson
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What are stem cells, and what do they do?

Stem cells are the foundation of life. In an embryo, stem cells give rise to a new body's bone marrow, blood, skin, nerves, and other cell types that form organs and structures.

In addition to the things mentioned above, stem cells can also be found in most mature tissues. They provide life-sustaining support to many organs and can act as a repair system for injuries. Stem cells are cells that give rise to other cells. For example, stem cells in your bone marrow produce new blood cells. Watch this video to learn more about what stem cells are and what they do as well as some moving testimonials.

Stem cells can do something straightforward yet essential — differentiate into various types of cells. Bone marrow, for example, produces red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body, white blood cells to protect us from infections, and platelets to help clot our blood when we're injured. With their versatility, stem cells have the potential to repair damage in almost any part of the body. Here's an introduction to stem cells and how they work.

What exactly are stem cells?

Stem cells are an exciting type of cell that has remarkable self-renewal capacity. They can replicate themselves, but they also act as a source for other types of cells in your body. The ability to regenerate makes stem cells unique; it's one of their most essential functions. All multicellular organisms contain stem cells, from plants to animals and even humans! The human body has two main types of stem cells: embryonic stem (ES) cells and adult stem (AS) cells. Embryonic stems come from embryos, while adult stems come from specialized tissues in adults like bone marrow or fat tissue. So we'll go into more detail about each kind below!

There are two significant types of stem cells found in living things. These include embryonic stem cells (ESC) and adult stem cells. ESCs, come from embryos, while ASCs come from specialized tissues like bone marrow or fat tissue. Embryonic stem cells have much more versatility than adult stem cells, which is why they're more commonly used for research and can be found in many labs worldwide. But on the other hand, adult stem cells can only differentiate into specific cell types within their lineage. For example, an adult stem cell will only become another blood cell, skin cell, muscle cell, etc. To become something entirely (like a neuron), it must undergo Trans Differentiation. This process has been observed in mice but hasn't been proven to occur naturally in humans! We still know quite a bit about how both kinds of stem cells work and how they differ. So let's take a look at some of these differences now.

Stem cells are categorized by where they originate in your body and what kind of cell they can develop into being. The main difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells is where they come from; ESCs originate in embryos, while ASCs come from different parts of our bodies as adults. Another important distinction is that ESCs have much more versatility than ASCs, meaning ESCs can potentially become any cell (such as a neuron or muscle). In contrast, an ASC will only become another blood cell like itself or a skin cell (etc.). Adult stem cells also have a much slower replication rate than their embryonic counterparts, making them less useful for research purposes and safer for humans!

Where do stem cells come from?

There are several sources of stem cells. The most common is adult stem cells, which are present in many different tissues. Researchers have learned how to extract them from fat, bone marrow, blood vessels, and other areas. Unfortunately, they aren't always easy to find or extract. So researchers look for new ways to create stem cells in a lab setting.

One of these methods involves reprogramming skin cells into an embryonic-like state that can differentiate into any type of cell (i.e., pluripotent). These induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells could be used as an alternative source for creating treatments like personalized medicine without having to harvest tissue from living donors. In addition to being able to become any cell, stem cells also have some unique properties that make them useful for research purposes. First, because they're so flexible, scientists can experiment with manipulating their genes—essentially editing their DNA—to learn more about what makes certain types of cells work better than others.

Because stem cells can divide indefinitely, they can also help researchers study diseases over time. For example, suppose you wanted to see how Parkinson's disease affects specific brain regions over time. In that case, you could use iPS cells derived from patients with Parkinson's to study its progression and compare it to healthy control groups. You could even grow these stem cells on 3D scaffolds to mimic a brain structure, allowing you to examine factors such as neurodegeneration further. And finally, because many diseases are caused by mutations in single genes, studying them one at a time would require harvesting samples from large numbers of people. But using stem cells allows you to grow each mutation in its culture dish; since every person's genome is slightly different, it's essential to be able to test drugs on individual mutations rather than using one average patient. So there you have it! That's everything we know about stem cells so far! For more information, visit our podcast here.

What do stem cells do?

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells, meaning they have not yet developed into specialized adult cells. This means they can develop in different ways that specialized adult cells cannot. The possibilities of stem cell research reveal treatments for Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes, and more. However, it is essential to note that these possibilities are still possibilities.

Although government regulators have approved some treatments using stem cells, many others are still undergoing clinical trials or awaiting approval. As such, it's essential to be aware of what has been proven and hasn't when you read about new developments in medical news stories or see advertisements on television or online. Also, remember that there is a big difference between embryonic stem cells and those derived from other sources (such as umbilical cords).

While embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any cell, including sperm or eggs, those derived from other sources can only differentiate into specific types of cells. For example, while an embryonic stem cell could theoretically become a brain cell, an induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell could only become skin or blood-related cell type. It's also important to note that although stem cells may hold great promise for treating certain diseases, they also raise ethical questions regarding how we view life and death. Since embryonic stem cells come from human embryos, their use raises concerns over abortion rights. In addition, since iPS cells are created using DNA taken from a patient's body tissue or fluids (such as urine), it raises questions about whether patients might eventually be able to recreate themselves through cloning technologies.

Some believe that one day, stem cells will allow us to create exact copies of ourselves, who would then carry on our legacy after we die. Others believe such technology would open Pandora's Box of problems and lead us down a slippery slope towards playing God. Regardless of your stance on these issues, it is clear that stem cell research holds both tremendous potential and severe ethical implications for society due to the indifference of how people feel about stem cell procedures. Many opt for a less invasive process that does not require surgeries or chemo-therapies. Click here to learn more about a less invasive process that does not require surgeries or chemo-therapies. If you are interested in seeing a video presentation of this process, click here.

The future of stem cells

In just over a decade, stem cell therapy has gone from a pipe dream to real-world treatment. Here's where it might be headed next. Tim Lebo, M.D., chief of medicine at The James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Posted June 16, 2016. Updated July 13, 2017. More on MedlinePlus »

Author's Bio Dr. Tim Lebo is chief of medicine at The James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He also serves as medical director for cancer survivorship programs at OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC — James). In addition, Dr. Lebo has been a member of several clinical trials investigating new therapies for patients with metastatic melanoma.

The use of stem cells as treatments is still in its infancy, but many different kinds of stem cells are used to treat various diseases

We'll take a look at some of these therapies below. Remember that these therapies are all very new, so their long-term effectiveness hasn't been thoroughly studied. It will likely be years before we know how well they work and whether they have any significant side effects. But it's important to know about them to decide if you ever need stem cell treatment for yourself or a loved one.

The first kind of stem cell therapy is called hematopoietic (pronounced: hah-mah-toe-poy-eetik) stem cell transplantation. In a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, doctors give patients high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to wipe out most of their existing bone marrow—the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.

Then doctors replace those old, damaged blood cells with healthy ones from a donor. This procedure is often used to treat certain types of leukemia, lymphoma, and other cancers like multiple myeloma. Although stem cell transplants aren't without risks—like infection and graft-versus-host disease (when donated immune cells attack recipient tissues)—there's good evidence that they can cure certain types of cancer when other treatments haven't worked.

Another type of stem cell therapy is called umbilical cord blood transplantation, which uses stem cells taken from a newborn baby's umbilical cord right after birth. These cells are known as hematopoietic progenitor cells because they can develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Cord blood transplants aren't commonly used to treat adults, but researchers study them in clinical trials for conditions like sickle cell anemia and thalassemia.

The third type of stem cell therapy is called autologous stem cell transplantation. Autologous means self, so doctors use your stem cells to treat you in an autologous transplant. If you receive an autologous transplant for breast cancer, your doctor will remove some of your blood-forming cells (hematopoietic progenitor cells) and freeze them until you need them later. That way, you won't have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation again. To prepare for an autologous transplant, your doctor might give you high doses of chemotherapy and radiation to destroy most of your existing bone marrow. That way, when they give back your stem cells, there won't be much competition between them and the remaining cancer cells in your body.

The fourth type of stem cell therapy is called mesenchymal (pronounced: mez-ehn-kihm-uhl) stem cell transplantation. Mesenchymal stem cells come from no embryonic sources, such as fat tissue, muscle tissue, and bone marrow. They're also referred to as adult stem cells because they come from more mature sources than embryonic ones. Doctors are experimenting with using mesenchymal stem cells to treat various disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, and osteoarthritis.

And finally, the fifth kind of stem cell therapy is multipotent adult progenitor cell transplantation. Multipotent adult progenitor cells are another type of stem cell found in the bone marrow. Like embryonic and fetal stem cells, they can turn into various cell types.

About a decade ago, stem cell therapy was the stuff of science fiction. The idea of infusing a patient's bloodstream with their cells to repair damage and fight disease was revolutionary. However, stem cell therapy is becoming increasingly common in medical practice. Some estimates say that by the 2020s, the market for stem cell-based products will reach $15 billion.

Here's what you should know about this rapidly growing field. The future of stem cell therapy is a fascinating topic full of promise and possibility. Many experts believe that stem cells have the potential to help us solve some of the biggest problems in medicine, from repairing and replacing worn-out or diseased tissue to treating chronic conditions and diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Click here to learn more about a less invasive process that does not require surgeries or chemo-therapies. If you are interested in seeing a video presentation of this process, click here.