Every one of the 200 types of cells that make up the human body comes from the zygote; the single-cell formed when an egg gets fertilized by a sperm. This single cell divides several times over the course of a few days while becoming a blastocyst, and eventually gives rise to every cell type of the human body. Each cell type has a unique size and structure suited to its function.
For example, skin cells are tiny and compact, but nerve cells that allow you to flex your toes contain elongated branching nerve fibers known as axons that convey electrical impulses. Tissues are made up of cells that have similar functions, and tissues group together to create organs. All the cells in a tissue or organ collaborate to ensure that the organ operates effectively.
There are also unique types of cells that are not specialized. These are stem cells that are capable of self-renewal and stimulate the regeneration of surrounding specialized tissue or organ cells. Researchers have learned to use this property for therapeutic purposes.
This article provides you an insight of what stem cells are and how they have been beneficial in the treatment of some health challenges. Read through to get enlightened.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are the raw-materials of the human body — they are the ones that generate all other body cells having specialized functions. Stem cells have not yet been committed to a developmental route that will create a specific tissue or organ; they are regarded as ‘undifferentiated’ cells.
Under the correct physiologic conditions of the body or in the lab, stem cells divide to generate new cells, which are called daughter cells. These daughter cells can generate new stem cells or differentiate into specialized adult cells like the brain cells, blood cells, heart muscle cells, or bone cells, each having its specific purpose. Differentiation is the process of transforming into a certain cell type. Other cells of the body lack the potential to produce new cell types on their own. This therefore, impedes their growth and restoration following a disease or injury. And this is where stem cells can help in the treatment of several health conditions.
Where Do Stem Cells Come From?
Stem cells serve as the bedrock for each of the organs and tissues of the body. There are many distinct types of stem cells originating from various parts of the body and are generated at various periods during our lifetimes. The types of stem cells are listed below.
- Embryonic stem cells
- Induced pluripotent stem cells
- Perinatal stem cells
- Adult stem cells
– Embryonic Stem Cells: These are stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst — a cluster of cells that develops shortly after an egg gets fertilized by a sperm. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are pluripotent, which may produce every cell type found in the fully-formed adult body.
– Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: These refer to adult stem cells that have been reprogrammed in the lab to give them traits similar to the embryonic stem cells. This enables adult stem cells to be more versatile by making them behave like embryonic ones.
– Perinatal Stem Cells: Amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus contains perinatal stem cells. Through the process of amniocentesis, these stem cells are taken from a pregnant woman. These cells have the potential to quickly convert into other cell types, making them extremely strong regenerative medicine agents.
– Adult Stem Cells: These are stem cells found in most adult tissues, including the bone marrow and fat tissues, to mention a few. Usually, they are present in small quantities, but can be harvested and then cultivated to the required amount. Unlike ESCs, adult stem cells have a restricted potential to give birth to diverse bodily cells. They were considered only capable of producing identical types of cells until recently. For example, scientists formerly believed that stem cells in the bone marrow could only produce blood cells. However, adult stem cells may be able to form a variety of cell types, according to new data. Derived from bone marrow, for example, they may be able to become bone or heart muscle cells, as well as promote tissue regeneration elsewhere in the body.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells
These are adult stem cells that are presented in the body since birth and can develop into a variety of cell types. They may be obtained from the bone marrow, the adipose tissue, the umbilical cord tissue, the placenta. They are also known as stromal stem cells and can develop into a variety of distinct cell types in the body, including:
- Bone cells
- Neural cells
- Skin cells
- Corneal cells
- Muscle cells
Mesenchymal stem cells are found in all humans from the very beginning of their lives. They are largely located in the perivascular niches and stay dormant until they are called upon to help the body repair. They grow old with us, and their quantity and efficacy diminish as we become older.
How Stem Cell Therapy Can Treat Diseases
When talking about stem cells for the treatment of illness, people often think of a stem cell transplant. Stem cell therapy, otherwise called regenerative medicine, uses stem cells or their secretome (the set of expressed proteins) to enhance sick, dysfunctional, or wounded tissue repair response. Unlike organ transplantation, it relies on cells rather than donor organs, which are often difficult to get.
In scientific research, stem cells may be differentiated into the required adult cell type before being transplanted. The mature cells are then used to replace tissue that has been destroyed by illness or injury. This form of therapy might be utilized for a variety of purposes. For example,
- Neurons that have been injured by a spinal cord injury, a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or other neurological issues are replaced.
- Generate cartilage to heal arthritic damage.
- Replacement of any other injured or diseased tissue or organ.
- A look into how stem cells become heart muscle cells might lead to new insights into how to get heart muscle to heal after a heart attack.
- The cells might be utilized to research illness, find novel treatments, and evaluate medications for hazardous side effects.
What Health Conditions Can Be Improved with Stem Cells
When introduced to a patient’s body, stem cells enter the sites of damage and stimulate the regeneration and restoration of tissues that have been destroyed or impacted by illness in individuals. They may also directly produce healthy cells needed to replace disease-affected ones. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are often used in regenerative medicine since they have been studied for use in the treatment of:
- Crohn’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinal cord injuries
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Heart diseases
- Type 1 diabetes
While mesenchymal stem cells don’t give a cure for many diseases, the assumption is that they let the body mend itself adequately enough to alleviate symptoms for lengthy periods. This alone enables patients to improve their quality of life significantly in many circumstances. There have been testimonials from patients underwent cell-based therapy that answer the question of whether or not stem cells can cure ALS.
Why Stem Cell Treatment Is a Progressive Direction of Modern Medicine
Are you still baffled with the question – why are stem cells important? You need not search too deeply. Stem cell treatment is a gigantic leap in the forward direction in the advancement of medical practice as it, for instance,
– Aids a better grasp of how illnesses develop. Researchers may better understand how illnesses and ailments emerge by monitoring stem cells evolve into cells such as the cardiac muscles, bones, neurons, and other body tissue.
– Produce viable cells to replace disease-affected ones. Stem cells may be developed into new tissue for transplantation and the purpose of generating viable cells which are disease-free.
– New medications are put through their paces to ensure their safety and efficacy. Researchers can utilize some stem cell subtypes to evaluate new medications for quality and safety before employing them in patients.
The modalities through which stem cells therapy help in disease treatment and advancement of medical knowledge is laudable. Have you benefited from it? You can share your experience in the comment section below.