Stem Cell Research

What it is and information about it

What is a Stem Cell

Stem cells are the body's raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells. These daughter cells either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or bone. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types.

Where Do Stem Cells come from

Commonly, stem cells come from two main sources. They come from embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Adult stem cells exist throughout the body after embryonic development and are found inside of different types of tissue. These stem cells have been found in tissues such as the brain, bone marrow, blood, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, skin, and the liver. They remain in a non-dividing state for years until they are activated by disease or tissue injury. Embryonic stem cells are derived from a four- or five-day-old human embryo that is in the stage of development.

How Stem Cells Might Be Used In Treating Diseases

The most common way of thinking about stem cells treating disease is through a stem cell transplant. Embryonic stem cells are differentiated into the necessary cell type, then those mature cells replace tissue that is damaged by disease or injury. This type of treatment could be used to replace neurons damaged by spinal cord injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or other neurological problems. However, bone marrow transplant is the most widely used stem cell therapy to treat many types of cancerous diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and many other diseases. A bone marrow transplant is a procedure in which stem cells made in the bone marrow are collected, either from a donor or from the transplant patient, and stored. Then the patient receives chemotherapy, with or without radiation therapy, to attack cancer cells or the patient's immune system or both.

What Happens When a Bone Marrow Transplant Malfunctions

Certain diseases disrupt the function of the bone marrow. These diseases may cause the bone marrow to fail, to produce an excess of some types of blood cells, or to make blood cells that don’t mature and can’t perform their normal functions. For example, in aplastic anemia, the bone marrow stops making new blood cells. In leukemia, the bone marrow makes too many immature white blood cells. In autoimmune diseases, immune-system cells malfunction and attack rather than protect the body.