Stem cells are making news. And with good reason.
Researchers feel that stem cells could have the potential to treat several diseases, such as Diabetes and Parkinson's, Muscular Dystrophy, MI which continue to challenge mankind till this day.
Many of us have a loved one with a serious ailment and wouldn't want to see the day in the future when a loved one might face a life and death battle.
Stem cell research is directed towards curing or preventing a host of fatal conditions and diseases.
Here's a brief explanation about stem cells; what they are, how they could be used to treat disease and injury and why they are replete with hope and promise.
- A cell is the basic unit of the human body.
- Cells grow and divide to form various organs of the body (such as heart, brain, liver, bone).
- Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have two defining properties: the ability to differentiate into other cells and the ability to self-regenerate.
- The ability to differentiate is the potential to develop into other cell types.
- Self-regeneration is the ability of stem cells to divide and produce more stem cells.
Types of Stem Cells
There are mainly two types of stem cells found in humans:
1. Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells are Pluripotent and have the ability to create all cell types in our bodies while adult stem cells are multipotent which can form limited types of cells. Embryonic stem cells are usually collected and cultured from embryonic cells, often resulting in the embryo's destruction.
2. Adult Stem Cells
Adult stem cells, obtained from humans, can be derived from different parts of the body and accordingly have different properties. They exist in several different tissues including umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, blood,dental pulp and brain. Some studies have suggested that adult stem cells are versatile and can develop into many different cell types.
Adult stem cells can be found as hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells.
(i) Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs):
These are adult stem cells found mainly in the bone marrow.They provide the blood cells required for daily blood turnover and for fighting infections.
Hematopoietic stem cells have been studied by scientists for many years, and they were the first stem cells to be used successfully in therapies.Hematopoietic stem cells from the bone marrow and umbilical cord blood have been used for decades to treat blood cancers (e.g. leukemia) and other blood disorders.
(ii) Mesenchymal stem cells or marrow stromal cells (MSCs):
These stem cells,also found in the bone marrow, can form a variety of cells of solid tissue in the laboratory, including fat cells, cartilage, bone, tendon and ligaments, muscles cells, skin cells and even nerve cells.
Unlike most other human adult stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells can be obtained in quantities appropriate for clinical applications, making them conducive for use in tissue repair.
Role of Stem Cells
Stem cells, by virtue of their properties mentioned above, play a vital role in the genesis and maintenance of our bodies.
In Normal Human Body
- Normal development of the organs and connective tissues in babies.
- Normal day-to-day repair of tissues.
In Diseased Human Body
- Repair of different tissues after injury.
- Replacement of specific organs in particular diseases.
Sources of Stem Cells
While stem cells can be found in many organs in human beings, the most commonly known sources have been: bone marrow and umbilical cord (which, in all likelihood, is discarded when your baby is born). Banking the umbilical cord is a common phenomenon in today's times.
Most people are unaware that stem cells are also present in the tooth (dental pulp). Specifically, they are found in:
Baby teeth or milk teeth (especially the teeth in the front): The dental pulp in the deciduous teeth of children contains stem cells. These teeth start falling off normally from the age of five until the age of twelve.
Permanent Teeth: The dental pulp in the adult permanent teeth, also contains stem cells. The wisdom teeth usually don't participate in the chewing function. Also, due to their abnormal position, it's difficult to maintain oral hygiene, and are therefore, prone to decay. These teeth are often extracted for orthodontic reasons. Premolars are generally extracted for orthodontic treatment, which can also be a good source of adult stem cells.