Stem Cell Health Information That Everyone Should Know

Unique Properties

Stem cells are considered unique because they can develop into a variety of cell types during the early years of life and as humans grow. Within many body tissues, it serves as an internal repair system. It can divide almost without limit and replenish other cells, even after a long period of inactivity. Once it divides, each of the new ones can remain the same or develop into a different type that will have a special function. For example, some become brain, muscle, or red blood cells.

In bone marrow and the gut, they divide regularly to repair or replace tissue that is damaged or has worn out. In the heart, pancreas, and some other organs, it will only divide under special conditions. Since 1981, scientists have long been using mice in their studies, which lead to a 1998 discovery that allowed them to grow human embryonic stem cells in a laboratory. Researchers also study somatic stem cells, also called adult stem cells.

Why They Are Important

They have many aspects that are considered important for a living organism. Within a three to five day-old embryo, inner cells help create the body of an organism. This includes the heart, lungs, eggs, sperm, skin, tissues, and various specialized types. When adult tissue contains these cells, it generates replacement cells for those that are lost.

The regenerative ability opens the door to new treatments for diseases. The potential to use therapies utilizing this for disease treatment led to the establishment of reparative or regenerative medicine. Though this sector is still in its infancy, scientists working in a laboratory setting have already used them to screen new drugs and create model systems to identify birth defect causes.

Potential Uses

Within a clinical or research environment, studies of embryonic stem cells will provide information regarding the processes that occur throughout human development. Scientists plan to study how an undifferentiated cell becomes a differentiated version that forms an organ or tissue. This work may help identify how serious health conditions like birth defects and cancer develop and can be treated.

The most important future application of stem cells is the generation of tissues and cells used for cell-based therapy. Surgeons currently use donated tissues and organs to replace those that are damaged or destroyed. Developments in this medical area could result in a renewable source of replacement tissues and cells to treat diabetes, stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and other diseases.

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