Introducing Stem Cells
Stem cells are the body’s raw materials or cells from which all other cells with specialised functions are generated. Under the right conditions, whether in the body or laboratory, the stem cells divide to form more cells. Stem cells have the capacity to both differentiate and multiply into 200 different cell types – from muscle cells to human cells – to form a human being. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types. Therefore, it is undeniable that stem cells are highly important and beneficial to our body.
In addition to their ability to develop into many different cell types, stem cells can also fix damaged tissues in some cases. Furthermore, researchers believe that stem cell-based therapies could one day be used to treat serious illnesses such as paralysis and Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the sources of adult stem cells?
Adult stem cells are generally derived from two sources.
(i) Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are the stem cells that give rise to other blood cells. Hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow of adults, especially in the pelvis, femur, and sternum. They are also found in the umbilical cord blood and in small numbers in peripheral blood. They are ultimately responsible for the constant renewal of blood and production of billions of new blood cells each day.
(ii) Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent stem cells that are present in multiple tissues, including the umbilical cord, bone marrow, and fat tissue, and are important for making and repairing skeletal tissues. Mesenchymal stem cells can self-renew. They are able to differentiate into multiple tissues including bone, cartilage, muscle and fat cells, and connective tissues. Besides, mesenchymal stem cells have an immune-modulation function, which is a regulatory adjustment of the immune system.
What are the types of stem cells?
Stem cells are divided into two main forms: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
Embryonic Stem Cells: These stem cells are currently used in research and come from unused embryos, which result from an in vitro fertilisation procedure. The embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. This means they can turn into more than one type of cell.
Adult Stem Cells: There are two types of adult stem cells. One comes from fully developed tissues such as the brain, skin, and bone marrow. There are small numbers of stem cells in these tissues. The second type are induced pluripotent stem cells. These are adult stem cells derived from skin or blood cells that enable the development of an unlimited source of any type of human cell needed for therapeutic purposes.
Why do we need stem cells in our body?
There are many reasons why stem cells are important for living organisms. Given their unique regenerative abilities, stem cells in our body offer new potentials for treating diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Another important potential application of human stem cells is in cell-based therapies due to the fact that stem cells can generate cells and tissues. Various laboratory and clinical researches have been carried out to understand how to use these cells for therapies to treat diseases; this is also referred to as regenerative or reparative medicine.
In fact, stem cell therapy derived from mesenchymal stem cells, especially from the uncontaminated Wharton’s Jelly of the umbilical cord of a newborn baby, has been clinically proven to be able to speed up cell recovery time frame without any adverse reactions.