Close to 40 years ago, humanity first discovered stem cells in human cord blood. Since then, science has been learning progressively about what stem cells are and what they can do within the scope of medical treatments. Stem cells are a “blank slate”; they are essentially un-programmed cells that have the ability to develop into various types of cells, with the possibility of advancing regenerative-medicine. There are four known types of stem cells including embryonic, fetal, umbilical and adult.
What Are Stem Cells
Stem cells are what the human body is generated from. These internal cells mature into other cells used in bones, muscles, nerves, tissues and ultimately organs. Stem cells have been of interest since their discovery for their importance and purpose in medical transplants for those who are ill and who must manage serious disease in order to live. Over time, human stem cells have become “programmable” and can now result in tissue-specific cells that allow us to study the effect of new pharmaceuticals. Stem cells are versatile and embryonic-stage stem cells are capable of becoming any type of human cell.
Why Stem Cells Are Important
Stem cells are crucial in understanding and treating cancer, damaged joints or organs and in bone marrow. As the body ages and is exposed to environmental toxins, it inevitably becomes damaged cellular, and will need to successfully regenerate in order to continue to function.
As an example, cancer is actually a group of over 100 separate diseases that all have one thing in common: abnormal, unregulated cell growth. Since cancer can develop at any age and within any area of the body, stem cells are particularly important in understanding malignant cell division. Currently, stem cells are being used to treat leukemia in particular. Stem cells differ from other types of cells because they are un-specialized and can renew themselves after long periods of inactivity. Moreover, they can actually become tissue in the right conditions.
Several years ago, human stem cells were used to produce a lamb-clone that helped scientists study in-vitro fertilization, producing medicines in farm-animal milk and to study proteins. Presently, while there is federal funding in place for stem cell study, ethics committees, congress and even the president are still actively working to determine policy on such research and appropriate financial allocation towards this approach to medicine.
Stem cells are remarkable. While science still has a ways to go in understanding them, stem cells that are obtained everyday through cord-blood will eventually be routinely used in transplants and regenerative medicine that continues to show promise for the near future. In addition to its many potential uses, stem cells provide optimism that results from current research studies will result in effectively healing conditions like heart disease, organ failure and provide permanent relief from chronic conditions during the aging process. Unlocking the secret of stem cells will one day lead science to understanding and curing Alzheimer’s disease and discouraging memory loss and behavioral challenges?