Vocabulary:

Self-Renewal-divide repeatedly

EmbryoThe early stages of development within the womb, in humans, up to the end of the second month.

In Vitro Fertilization clinic- IVF is the process of fertilization by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish.

Embryonic- A cell in the undeveloped stage of an embryo.

Pluripotent- Able to become different types of cells in the body.

Differentiate- To change from relatively generalized to specific kinds during development

Multipotency-The potential to give rise to cells from multiple, but a limited number of lineages.

Alzheimer's disease- The most common form of dementiaa general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. 

Stroke-  A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of the brain stops.

Diabetes- A chronic disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood.

Osteoarthritis- OA is the most common joint disorder, which is due to aging and wear and tear on a joint.

Rheumatoid ArthritisRA is a long-term disease that leads to inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues.

 

Stem Cell Background: What are they and how can they improve regenerative medicine?

What are stem cells?

     Stem cells are found within multicellular organisms, like animals or plants, which help repair and/or replace tissue or cells.  We discuss human stem cells in this site and their benefit to our bodies.  There are typically two types of human stem cells: embryonic and adult.  The main difference between these two is the source of their origin . They are able to repair many tissues and are self-renewal.  After the stem cell has divided, it is able to remain as a stem cell or develop into another type of cell with a different function, such as a muscle, blood, skin, or brain cell.  The primary value to understanding human stem cells are the healing benefits they could provide to humanity (curing cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, etc.).


Embryonic Versus Adult Stem Cells

     Embryonic stem cells originate from an embryo.  They are obtained from the inner layer of the early stages of an embryo which causes the destruction of a fertilized human embryo.  “Most embryonic stem cells are derived from  embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro - in an in vitro fertilization clinic - and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors.” (http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics3.asp)  Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent and in the right environment, are able to differentiate, and could replicate indefinitely.  These characteristics make embryonic stem cells so valuable.  Embryonic stem cells can generate all cell types in the body, and with the possibility of unlimited renewability, they offer unlimited potential to repairing and/or curing diseases and ailments.  Studies of embryonic stem cells will also allow scientists to further study how humans develop.  This will enable a more complete understanding of how disease arise and suggest new treatments and therapies.

     Adult stem cells are found/obtained in the developed body and have similar properties to other stem cells; primarily multipotency and self-renewal.  The essential difference is that adult stem cells are multipotent, and therefore can generate only a limited type of cells similar to their makeup (i.e. blood cells create more blood cells, brain cells create more brain cells).  Adult stem cells are currently being used successfully today to “treat leukemia and related bone/blood cancers utilizing bone marrow transplants” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adult_stem_cell).  Excitingly, researchers have developed human induced pluripotent adult stem cells (see Case Study) from adult stem cells which have similar characteristic to embryonic stem cells. With this new development, we may be able reduce the risks of host immune rejection, cure multiple diseases, and resolve the ethical concerns of working with embryonic stem cells.


How Can Stem Cells Improve Regenerative Medicine?

     The principle benefit to human stem cells are to create replacement tissue, cells and organs for ailing patients.  There are not enough donated organs and tissues.  Using stem cells as a replacement would “offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis” (http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics6.asp).  Another possible use for human stem cells would be to utilize them to test new drugs to evaluate which medicines are effective or not before they are given to patients.  Studies of genetically altered stem cells to mimic human genetic disorders could offer invaluable information regarding specific diseases.  Human stem cells provide a possibility for many new therapies to treat many different diseases, but there are many obstacles that can only be overcome through years of research and experiments.


Video: How stem cells work and develop. 

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