Stem Cell Research
There have been many advances in the medical and scientific worlds that have advanced human knowledge in various areas. The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming back in 1928 gave the world its first true antibiotic. DNA profiling has changed the way that forensic science is used in criminal investigation, and the introduction of vaccines has saved countless lives.
Vaccines, of course, are in the news constantly now with the various versions being administered to millions to try to halt the spread of Covid and end the pandemic. There is one other incredible advance that is changing the medical world, and that is the use of stem cells.
It has been 10 years since Ernest McCullock passed away but his legacy lives on. It was McCulloch and James Till who first recognized and separated a stem cell. This discovery improved some medical procedures such as bone marrow transplants immediately. The possibilities for stem cell use in the medical world are still being investigated, as they may be so far-reaching.
What are stem cells?
The definition of cell differentiation is described as the process where a young cell forms its own characteristics and features and matures into a cell with a specialized purpose. The cells in the human body are mostly made up of differentiated cells. They have matured and have their purpose in the body and will serve one specific area.
For example, Mesothelial cells’ purpose is to provide a lining to the body’s organs and serous cavities. Keratinocytes are the main cells in the skin and protect against UV radiation, water loss, and viral or fungal infections. Stem cells are different from these differentiated cells.
Stem cells can be classed as being blank or undifferentiated. They are distinct from differentiated cells, which have only one specific purpose in the body, as blank stem cells can mature and carry out many functions and roles.
Stem cells can divide and multiply indefinitely and they will either produce more stem cells or become a differentiated cell such as Keratinocyte.
Are there different types of stem cells?
Medicines can cure disease but only doctors can cure patients, or so the saying goes. Stem cells can help cure many medical problems, but only certain stem cells can cure certain problems. There are a number of different stem cells and they each have different uses:
- Totipotent or Omnipotent Stem Cells
The most powerful of all of these is the totipotent, or omnipotent stem cell. A totipotent cell is the most powerful as it can bring about life. Ie it can form a fully functioning living creature. A human fertilized egg is an example of a totipotent cell. Everyone starts out as just one cell, a zygote, and this then divides into two cells, which divide again, and again. After some time, the cells will begin to differentiate and take on their specific purposes.
Pluripotent stem cells are harvested from 3 to 5-day old embryos. Although the embryo is fertilized in a lab and not the human body, it is these stem cells that have caused some of the controversy surrounding the research.
What uses do stem cells have?
There have been many breakthroughs in stem cell research including recently, progress with enteric nervous system disorders. They can be used in many ways as stem cells can develop into whatever cell is needed.
Stem cells could be used for the following purposes:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Tissue regeneration
- Brain disease
- Blood diseases
- Cell deficiency therapy
Tissue regeneration is possible with the use of induced pluripotent cells and some other types, and this could lead to huge advances in skin treatments. The biggest organ of a human is the skin and it helps to protect and to create a barrier for the body.
Sometimes wounds cannot heal effectively perhaps due to a severe accident, cancer, or burns. Stem cells could help to regenerate healthy tissue and improve the condition of patients with any number of skin conditions.
Platforms such as Celixir are working with stem cell therapy and hoping to make the next big breakthrough. This may include cell deficiency therapy where it is hoped that soon, laboratories will be able to grow heart cells to fix the damage in patients with heart disease. The same theory could also work for other organs such as the pancreas for diabetes patients.
Stem cell therapy has no ethical concerns as far as adult cells go but there may be issues elsewhere. For some people, science is a blessing, and to others it is trouble and there is some controversy when it comes to embryonic stem cell research.
However, it could be argued very strongly for the use of stem cell research and therapy after the potential uses are weighed up. Stem cells could potentially be used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and spinal cord damage. With stem cell research platforms driving ahead there could be another major breakthrough in the science and medical world soon.