By Aminah Rangwala
When you think of stem cells, you envision just another cell in our body. However, stem cells are more than that. The definition of stem cells includes 'a type of cell that can develop into various different cells that each have a different function.’ For example, stem cells can turn themselves into the blood or immune cells (cells that can remove and engulf cellular debris that is foreign to the body).
Because stem cells can transform themselves into any other type of functioning cell, they are considered to be unspecialized or being unable to perform many functions in the body as an untransformed stem cell. Stem cells can also replace cells that are dying off, as well as renew any cells over a long period of time. Although all stem cells can develop into another type of cell, they greatly differ from each other based on their individual behaviors and capacity to function. Some categories of stem cells that are crucial in the research field, as well as the overall development of various stem cells, are pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are cells that can divide and renew themselves. Embryonic stem cells, which are a type of pluripotent stem cells, can regenerate and be used for embryonic purposes (such as replacing damaged tissues) of the adult body. Non-embryonic stem cells, also known as somatic cells, are specifically found in tissues and organs. These cells are special because they can fix and repair any tissues or organs that have been misused or out of place.
We have covered some basic purposes and uses of stem cells, but what is the true significance as to why medical professionals and researchers are so interested in the process of stem cells? Let’s look into it!
One of the main reasons why there is such a hunger for knowledge about stem cells is because researchers and medical experts believe that stem cells can provide insight into how diseases occur. By observing how stem cells evolve into different cells (e.g. muscle, blood, and intestinal), scientists can see how the conditions of a disease develop. Another importance of stem cells is how researchers can test different medicines and drugs to see if it will be harmful or effective to the body when something is damaged. For example, a muscle cell can be generated from a stem cell to test toxicity levels and reactions to new drug treatments for muscle disease. In doing so, researchers and scientists are able to derive new discoveries from these cells through experimentation and analysis of what these cells bring to the world.
Stem cells brings about the curiosity of many questions and facts. One of the most frequently asked questions is if stem cells have the ability to be injected into patients and if they will permanently cure ailments. According to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, therapies by using different functionated stem cells, such as bone marrow, peripheral, and skin cells, have been able to help regenerate different aspects of the adult bodies for 40 years. By using these adult stem cell therapies, stem cells were shown by scientists to reside in many tissues in the hunt for cures to treating illnesses such as cancer. Such therapies include embryonic therapies, which are greatly significant in the medical field. In embryonic stem cell therapies, it is a bit more tricky to apply the knowledge known to potentially treat diseases in the future. The main diseases that scientists are gearing by using embryonic stem cell therapy are spinal injuries, diabetes, blindness, and loss of hearing.
Stem cells have become a major part of our lives. Whether they cause a sense of curiosity among others or a sense of risk for developing and finding discoveries that may threaten lives, it is truly fascinating how these cells can transform and regenerate into different cells. Their unique ability has the potential to pave the way for huge development in the field of various sciences and practices of medicine. Being able to realize what these cells can do opens our vision to a future where anything is possible, even if it’s one cell creating a minor change in someone’s life.