Stem Cells: Great Potential


 Both recently, and through periods of time, our knowledge of an incredible, natural function of one specific cell type has drastically increased. Through scientific research, many uses and capabilities have been found about the Stem Cell. It is unlike any other cell. It has an entirely different purpose than most ‘task assigned’ cells. As research continues, entire new medical possibilities could be revealed.

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Stem cells are remarkably unique because of their ability to develop into different cell types. They also serve as an internal mechanic. They do not have a dividing limit until the repair job is finished, unless the host is dead. When they originally divide, they have the choice to stay a stem cell, or to become a cell with a more specific job, such as muscle, red blood cell, or a brain cell. Their uses are infinite.

Stem cells differ from other types with two recognizable characteristics. They are not specialized cells, and are capable of renewing themselves through cell division. They can even renew after long periods of inactivity.  The second is that they can assign themselves to become whatever they need to be, such as bone marrow, organ-specific, tissue, and gut. Stem cells only divide under special conditions in the pancreas and heart.

30 years ago, scientists were able to extract a stem cell from mouse embryos in early development, and grow them separately in a laboratory. In 1998, they were able to extract stem cells from human cells, and grow them the same way. These embryos were created for invitro fertilization procedures-in other words, reproductive procedures. Another breakthrough occurred in 2006, when we ‘reprogrammed’ specialized adult cells to develop a stem cell-like state. This new type is calle an induced pluripotent stem cell christensena 2

            These are not the only reasons that stem cells are important. In a 3-5 day old embryo, stem cells start the entire organism body. These are called blastocysts, and they are the inner cells. They become specialized cells destined to become the heart, skin, eggs, sperm, lung, and others. Adult stem cell populations generate cell replacements for those lost in normal stress conditions in the muscle, bone marrow, and brain.

            Stem cells are already being studied for birth defect causes. We can also test new drugs and study normal growth without potentially harming an animal. They explain how organisms develop from a single cell, and the replacement of damaged cells with new ones. These cells are one of the most fascinating biology topics. New questions are rapidly generated as scientific study is advanced.

            A small starting population of stem cells grown in a laboratory can become millions of cells within weeks. This is due to proliferation. These cells are the only ones capable of ‘long term self-renewal’. Questions these cells raise are: 1. How can they sustain themselves for a very long time, while most non-embryonic stem cells are unable to do so? 2. What are factors that regulate this long-term proliferation, and self-renewal?

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           Stem cells help scientific research in several ways. They can yield very important information on the early development of human life. Their ability to turn genes on and off is profound, yet is the key to the stem cell in the case of differentiation and non-differentiation into specific organs. If we could manually turn the gene on or off, we could ‘clone’ entirely new body parts. Also in the case of cancer, cancerous stem cells are tested on with new drugs to fight the horrible disease.

            The potential of stem cell capabilities are endless. They could completely revolutionize the way we use medicine, and allow us to combat physical ailments with ease. Yet, there is still so much that we have to learn about them. How do they know where to go? Can we crack their code? I find them fascinating, and we have barely scratched the surface.

            If stem cell research and use was perfected, injuries and ailments would not be a problem. I would be happy to be a guinea pig! If stem cells could speed up the healing process of my broken foot, then sign me up! Like I said, I find them fascinating. Watching how far they go in the future will be very interesting!