Stem cell regeneration sounds like a futuristic thing, but in most animals it is something that happens every day. Stem cell regeneration research is making great headway. Scientists are learning how to use stem cells to cure certain problems that as of right now is uncurable. If you get a cut, your cells regrow and form the new skin to cover the cut. If you break a bone, the bone cells grow new bone, but if you damage your spine, your body cannot make new nerve cells. Stem cells are cells that hopefully in the future can cure things like paralysis and change lives.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are cells that have not made a decision on what type of cell it wants to be. It is almost like someone who goes to college and chooses exploratory as a major. The options are endless. The thought behind stem cells is that you can make them into any cell that needs to be regenerated. If your liver is bad, turn them into liver cells to make a new liver. If your finger is gone, turn them into a finger cell to make a new finger. There are lots of animals that have this ability. Take a starfish for example. If one of their arms comes off, they can regenerate and make a new one. This is fascinating and if science continues to progress we may be able to do some of these same things in the future.
Types of Stem Cells
There are two types of stem cells: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells come from mature organisms. They are cells that sit all over the body and wait to divide. They usually do not do anything until you experience injury or cell death. Blood cells die daily, so some of these adult stem cells multiply in the blood to allow for new blood cells to form. Adult stem cells are slightly limited in their ability to become new cells. Most adult stem cells can only become the cells from their tissue of origin. If they are found in the brain, they may only divide into other brain cells. Scientists are pushing the limits of these cells and trying to get them to divide into other cell types. Adult stem cells have been successful for repair when an injury happens in certain parts of the body. It has its limitations, though, and because of those limitations, research is still being done.
Embryonic stem cells are those taken from an embryo. These cells are removed after about six days of growth. It is at this point that the embryonic cells are robust. These cells have the potential of being anything. Going back to my college example, these cells are truly exploratory. They are just waiting to find their niche. The difference between adult and embryonic stem cells is that adult stem cells are like that student that says I want to study science, but I’m just not sure what type; should I do chemistry, biology, neuroscience? They have already kind of chosen a path, so their options are limited. They cannot jump up and decide to take history like someone who is exploratory. Embryonic stem cells show a lot of promise because they can choose to regenerate into any cell. That even includes nerve cells. The problem with embryonic stem cells is the controversy around getting them. Many believe that it is a form of abortion because you are taking a viable being and stopping it from growing. It is hard to get these cells because most people will not sign off for that. Sometimes the only way to get these cells is when someone undergoes IVF. During this procedure, multiple fertilized eggs are implanted and between 4-6 days, the doctor may take a few of them out to get the embryonic cells.
As of right now, adult stem cells are being used to help regenerate certain organs. Embryonic cells have great potential, but they have not been as successful as expected. Organ tissue regeneration is the major form of stem cell regeneration right now. So far new skin cells have been made for burn victims and new liver cells have been made for those with a damaged liver. The hope is that we can build completely new hearts and implant them for those with heart disease. Research is also leaning towards the formation of a new pancreas, to treat diabetes and new brain cells for the purpose of treating Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Curing these diseases would be a breakthrough for the science world.
Stem cell regeneration is extremely promising and is already helping many people. Research on adult and embryonic cells is different, but it is promising. Adult cells are already showing some success in regeneration. Can you imagine being able to grow new limbs or replacing completely damaged organs with new ones from your cells? We are not quite there yet, but with the continued research, we will be there soon.
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