Study: Self-replicating Stem Cells Driving Health
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to stem cells. This article, based on information from medical professionals, seeks to separate the fact from fiction.
What Are Stem Cells?
The universal trait that all forms of stem cells have is the ability to make other types of cells. Some stem cells termed pluripotent stem cells can both renew themselves as well as have the ability to become virtually any type of cell found in the body. One such type of stem cell that can do this is embryonic stem cells.
While not all stem cells have such potential as the embryonic stem cells do, scientists have recently learned how to alter adult stem cells and convert them into pluripotent cells.
Why Don’t Scientists Just Study Adult Stem Cells?
While adult stem cells do offer some advantages, such as less chance of rejection from the individual (since treatments with them usually come from your own body) and the fact that they aren’t controversial like embryonic stem cells, they do have some disadvantages:
- They are fairly rare and as such hard to acquire.
- Stem cells may be rejected by the body if they did not come from that individual.
- Growing them takes a considerable amount of time.
- They can’t form every single cell in the body like embryonic stem cells can.
- The don’t provide the same sort of insight into early human development like embryonic stem cells do.
Why is There Such an Interest in Stem Cells?
With their ability to self-replicate, a fairly small quantity of stem cells can be extracted from the body and cultivated in a laboratory to produce millions upon millions of stem cells. These cells can then be used for a form of medical treatment termed regenerative medicine. This form of medicine has the ability to repair and even replace diseased or damaged organs in the body.
What Types of Stem Cell Treatments Are Available?
One of the most well-known treatments available today is used to treat certain forms of leukemia, where the stem cells are extracted from bone marrow. With bone marrow being such a rich source of blood stem cells, these cells improve the immune function by replacing white blood cells.
Here in the U.S., the FDA has approved Hemacord, a product that utilizes stem cells extracted from cord blood. Hemacord is able to treat several diseases that inhibit the body’s ability to produce new blood cells. Some such diseases as blood cancers and diseases that negatively affect the immune system.
Are Treatments Using Stem Cells Safe?
Aside from some individual’s ethical oppositions to stem cell research, there are some potential dangers related to treatments as well:
- While scientists are able to grow stem cells in a laboratory and can even reprogram some cells, the processes in which they do so may cause the stem cells to be genetically damaged.
- While stem cells can replicate themselves and become other cells in the body, there is nothing preventing them from becoming cancerous cells.
Due to the risks and complexity of stem cells, research is still ongoing and numerous studies are being conducted to test therapies. While there are several therapies that have already been deemed safe (and as such approved) by the FDA, there are many more on the horizon.
If you think stem cell therapy might be worthwhile for a health condition you are suffering from, discuss the matter with your healthcare professional and see if they think it is right for you.