Stem cells can be described as “blank” cells or undifferentiated cells. They are capable of developing into cells that can serve multiple functions in different parts of the body. The majority of cells in the body can be classified as differentiated cells. These cells are limited to a single purpose within an organ.
Each human being is born with one cell. This is “zygote”, or fertilized egg. The zygote splits into two, four, and then five cells. The cells eventually begin to differentiate and take on a specific function within a particular part of the body. This is differentiation.
Stem cells are cells that have not yet differentiated. They can divide and create an infinite number of copies of their own cells. The body’s other cells can only reproduce a finite number of times before they start to fall apart. A stem cell can divide and become a differentiated or a normal cell.
Potential uses for stem cells
Scientists believe stem cells can turn into other types of cells and be used to treat and understand diseases.
- To replace injured organs or tissues, you can grow new cells in a lab.
- Correct organs that aren’t working properly
- Research into genetic defects in cells
- Research how certain cells become cancerous or how they develop into diseases
- Test new drugs to ensure safety and effectiveness
Different types of stem cells
There are many types of stem cells that can serve different purposes.
Embryonic stem cell transplants
Three to five-day-old embryos are used as embryonic stem cells. In-vitro fertilization is the process by which they are obtained. In-vitro fertilization is the process of fertilizing an embryo outside the female body. These cells can produce virtually any type of cell in your body.
Stem cells that are not embryonic (adult)
Because adult stem cells can also be found in children and infants, their name is misleading. These stem cells are derived from tissues and organs that have been developed in the body. The body uses them to repair or replace damaged tissue in the exact same place they were found.
Hematopoietic stem cells, for example, are a type of adult stem cell found within the bone marrow. They produce new red blood cells and white blood cells as well as other types of blood cell. For decades, doctors have performed stem cell transplants (also known as bone marrow transplants) using hematopoietic stems cells to treat certain types of cancers.
Adult stem cells are not capable of dividing into other types of cells in the same way as embryonic stem cells.
Induced pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs).
Scientists recently discovered how to transform adult stem cells into pluripotent cells. These cells known as induced pluripotent cells (iPSCs). They can be differentiated into any type of specialized cell in the body. They can produce new cells for any tissue or organ. Scientists genetically modify adult stem cells to create iPSCs.
This breakthrough allows us to “dedifferentiate” stem cells. This could make them more useful in understanding the development of diseases. Scientists hope that cells can be created from the skin of a patient to treat a condition. This will prevent the immune system from rejecting organ transplants. Researchers are working to create iPSCs safely.
Cord blood stem cells, amniotic fluid stem cells, and cord blood stem cells
After childbirth, cord blood stem cells can take from the umbilical chord. These cells can store in cell banks to use in the future. These cells can use to treat certain blood cancers in children, including leukemia and other genetic disorders.
Amniotic fluid also contains stem cells. This fluid surrounds the developing baby in the mother’s womb. More research needed to understand the potential uses for amniotic fluid stem cell.
Stem cell research controversy
There are no ethical issues with adult stem cells. There has been some controversy about how human embryonic stem cell obtained in recent years. The embryo destroyed during the harvesting of embryonic stem cells. People who feel that the killing of a fertilized embryo should morally condemn have ethical concerns.
Opponents argue that embryos are living beings. They do not believe that fertilized eggs should use for research. They believe that embryos should have the same rights and protections as other humans.
Stem cell researchers, on the contrary, believe embryos are not yet human. Researchers receive consent from the couple who donated the eggs and sperm to create the embryos. The supporters also claim that fertilized eggs from in-vitro fertilization should discard so that they can use for scientific research.
The breakthrough discovery of iPSCs may mean that human embryos are less needed for research. This could help to ease concerns from those who oppose using embryos in medical research. Researchers could theoretically create a clone from a donor if iPSCs can develop into a human embryo. This raises another ethical concern. Many countries have laws that ban human cloning.
Federal regulations regarding stem cell research
The United States has seen its federal policy on stem cell research evolve over the years as presidents elected. It is important to remember that stem cell research never explicitly prohibits by any federal regulation. Regulations have put restrictions on public funding. However, some states banned the creation and destruction of embryos from human beings for medical research.
Former President George W. Bush’s Stem Cell Policy
Former President George W. Bush approved in August 2001 a law to provide limited federal funding for research on embryonic stem cell research. This research must meet the following criteria:
- The embryo destroyed and the harvesting process began before 9 p.m., August 9, 2001.
- It is for reproduction purposes, but the stem cells not needed.
- The embryo donated after the donor gave informed consent. There was no financial reward for the donation.
President Barack Obama’s Stem Cell Policy
In March 2009, President Barack Obama reversed the statement of former President Bush and issued Executive order 13505. This order lifted federal restrictions on stem cell research funding. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which granted this order, was able to fund research using embryonic stem cells. To establish its policy for funding research, the NIH published guidelines. These guidelines created to ensure that all NIH-funded stem cell research is ethically sound and scientifically valid.
Stem cell research: Examples
Research institutions and hospitals all over the globe engage in stem cell research. Researchers are currently trying to figure out how stem cells can control to make other types of cells.
Cell differentiation is a process that results in cells becoming more differentiated.
Research on embryonic stem cell research aims to understand how undifferentiated stems cells can become differentiated stem cells capable of forming specific tissues and organs. This process of differentiation is also being studied by researchers.
Scientists have over the years developed techniques to manipulate stem cells to create particular types of cells. it known as directed differentiation. Recent research also revealed the first steps in stem cells’ transformation into brain cells or other types of cells. This topic is still under research.
Researchers may be able to use embryonic stem cell differentiation to treat certain diseases if they can discover a reliable method. They may be able, for example, to direct embryonic stem cells to become insulin-producing cells and transplant them into patients with type 1 diabetes.
The following medical conditions can also be treated using embryonic stem cell therapy:
- Traumatic spinal cord injury
- Severe burns
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Heart disease
- Hearing loss
- Retinal disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
California’s Stem Cell Agency has a comprehensive list of current stem cell research programs and clinical trials. These are just a few examples of such projects:
- After a stroke, inject modified stem cells directly into your brain
- Stem cells can use to replace damaged inner ear cells that detect sound and help to restore hearing
- The modification of the stem cell genes to make them immune to certain diseases and then inserting them in people suffering from the disease
- Stem cells can use to restore the bones of osteoporosis patients by cultivating stem cell lines
Stem cells used to test new drugs
To test new drugs’ safety and effectiveness, researchers are using differentiated stem cell research. It is possible to test drugs using human stem cells, eliminating the need for testing them on animals.
The potential for stem cell research to have a major impact on human health is enormous. There is controversy over the use, development, and destruction of human embryos. Scientists have a new way to turn adult stem cells into pluripotent stem cells, which can transform into any type of cell. This would eliminate the need to use embryonic stem cells for research. These breakthroughs are a sign of the progress made in stem cell research. These advances are not enough to create stem cell therapies that work.