Stem Cells (Part 2)

Potential of Stem Cells

The potential for human embryonic stem cells is high.  The researched happening right now for stem cells is what genetic information spurs them to change from undifferentiated cells into differentiated cells which can form tissues and organs.  If scientists can determine how to turn these genes on and off then the ability to treat issues such as burns, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury and more will be unlocked.  Scientists are hoping studying the abnormal cell division in cancer or from birth defects hold a clue about how to control this genetic process.

The additional challenge to figuring out how to turn on and off cell division is regulating it so that it doesn’t go out of control.  Human stem cells are used for testing a plethora of drugs today in order to ensure they are safe before being approved for human consumption.  Doctors such as J Kevin Kaufman are excited for what these treatments could mean for helping people with back injuries and other related issues.  Right now the human stem cells which are being tested are being injected into lab mice to see if they can provide cell based therapy to issues the mice suffer from.  For example, preliminary research indicates if we inject bone marrow stromal cells into a damaged heart it has beneficial effects of helping the heart repair.  How and why exactly is still being determined, but these results are promising for the future.

Manipulation Process

A lot needs to happen for scientists to successfully manipulate stem cells and make them work for cell based treatment therapies.

First, the stem cells need to be reproducible so they can proliferate into quantities sufficient for treatment.

Second, they need to develop the ability to have cells divide into the desired cell types without irregularities or other potential issues.

Third, the cells need to survive in the host after they are transplantedstem cell - shutterstock so they can take effect and go to work.  If the host’s body kills the cells or fights with them then the treatment will fail.

Four, the stem cells need to be capable of integrating into the targeted tissue otherwise they won’t have the effect we’re hoping to achieve.

Five, we need the cells to keep performing their job for a long time.  If the cell treatment only lasts a month then the patient will have return regularly to have new injections of cells and this is not the desired outcome.

Six, the stem cells cannot harm the patient.

The next decade proves to be a very promising one thanks to the advancements in technology and computer processing which allows us to perform more calculations and simulations at greater speeds than ever before.

Stem Cells (Part 1)

What Are Stem Cells?

Before we can delve into the research and potential of stem cells, it’s important to first understand what they are and how they function.

Stem cells exist inside all of us and they are what we are originally created from.  Stem cells are their own unique cell which continues to divide and grow while the person or animal is living.  When a stem cell divides the two new cells can remain stem cells or they can turn into different cells with specialized functions, such as a muscle cell or red blood cell.  In this way stem cells are like a universal remote, they can be used to make any other type of cell needed by the animal or person.

Stem cells are remarkable because of the ability to keep renewing themselves through cell division even after long periods of inactivity, sometimes.  Under certain conditions these cells can be induced to become specific parts for a body such as organ specific tissues or tissue.  This happens regularly in our bone marrow where cells are dividing regularly to replace and repair wear and tear.  However, as J Kevin Kaufman points out, some organs only have stem cells which divide to become new functioning cells for that organ under special conditions, for example the heart and brain.

So the three properties which make stem cells unique are their ability to renew and divide for extended periods of time, unspecialized, and capable of turning into other specialized cell types.

Different Kinds of Stem Cells

There are different kinds of stem cells, but for the most part a majority of stem cell research has been conducted using embryonic stem cells.  The other kind of stem cell is called the “somatic or “adult” stem cell.  In 1981 scientists learned to extract embryo stem cells from mice.  After 17 years of research, scientists learned how to derive human embryonic stem cells.  The human embryonic stem cells were created from in vitro fertilization and were only used for research when they were no longer needed and donors gave consent.

Fortunately, scientists had a breakthrough in 2006 when they discovered somatic stem cells could be engineered to genetically assume a stem cell-like state; these cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

Being Born

Embryos which are 3-5 days old are called blastocyst and it is within these which embryonic stem cells generate the entire body of an organism.  This early period of pregnancy is when the stem cells are induced into generating the many different special cells needed for vital organs and skeletal structure for the organism, such as the lungs, heart, skin, bones and so on.

Be sure to check back soon as we begin discussing the cell based therapies for treating diseases and the discoveries unveiled from research on stem cells.