Stem cells are unspecialised cells that have an amazing potential to develop into many different cell types in the body such as muscle cell, a red blood cell or a brain cell. They are present in many tissues and serve as a sort of internal repair system when needed.
The stem cells in the tissues when needed divide to replenish other damaged cells of the concerned tissue. When a stem cell divides, the new cell can develop into another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell or a brain cell or remain as a stem cell.
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The stem cells in certain organs (gut, bone marrow) divide to form new cells to repair worn out or injured cells, where as in other organs like the pancreas and the heart, stem cells divide to repair the injured cells only under particular circumstances.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have an amazing potential to develop into specialized cell types in the body such as muscle cell, a red blood cell or a brain cell. This has opened avenues to treat diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Use of stem cells to treat diseases, is also referred to as regenerative or reparative medicine. Ongoing research on stem cells has advanced our knowledge about the development of an organism from a single cell and the way healthy cells divide to replace damaged cells in adult living beings. This discipline of science has evolved as a fascinating area of biology, with enormous possibilities in the years to come. The major charm of stem cell therapy is that it aims to correct and/or replace damaged or diseased cells unlike conventional treatments which just treat the symptoms.
There are several sources of stem cells and the potential of these stem cells depends on from where they are obtained.
Embryonic stem cells: Stem cells can be obtained from human embryo. From a 4-day old human embryo, scientists can extract the blastocyst (inner cell). The cells are then cultured for about six months in the lab until a ‘cell line,’ is formed that has millions of stem cells. The embryos that were originally created for IVF but are not needed are generally used for stem cell research. They are obtained from the donor after getting their informed consent.
Bone marrow: Bone marrow which is present inside the bones has stem cells. It is a rich source of stem cells. But as the stem cells are mature they can differentiate into only certain type of mature cells. As these cells are affected by exposure to environmental chemicals and toxins their use is limited. Stem cells from bone marrow are used to treat blood disorders, immune system disorders and genetic disorders.
Peripheral blood stem cells: These are adult stem cells which circulate in your blood. This is not a rich source of stem cell. The number of peripheral blood stem cell from a donor can be increased by administering ‘growth factor’ drugs. The stem cells are separated from the blood and the blood is returned to the body.
Cord blood stem cells: The stem cells obtained from cord blood are much more primitive than the stem cells from bone marrow or peripheral stem cells. Hence they have potential to treat a wide range of diseases and disorders. Cord blood is obtained after the umbilical cord has been cut. The blood is frozen and stored in cord blood banks either privately or can be donated to public cord blood...
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