Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Stem Cells (Blog Post #1)
What are stem cells, and why are they important? (Blog post #1)
Stem cells are cells that are able to develop into many different types of cells in the body. They also serve as repair mechanisms in tissues by undergoing cell division almost without limit to help replenish any damaged or dead cells. Whenever a stem cell divides, each new cell can either become another stem cell or differentiate into a specific type of cell, such as a muscle, brain, or red blood cell. The reason stem cells are significant is because they possess two unique characteristics: 1) they are unspecialized cells that can self-replenish through cell division even after inactivation, and 2) if they are put under certain environmental and physiological conditions, they can be induced to become certain types of cells, depending on the tissue or organ. These properties of stem cells allow for potential research and testing into treating and curing various diseases involving damaged or malfunctioning tissues and organs.
There are two main ways that stem cells are acquired: embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic (“somatic” or “adult”) stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that have developed in eggs in vitro (meaning in laboratory settings) and not in a woman’s body. These cells are then cultured, grown, and stored for later use. Through the process of “directed differentiation,” scientists are able to control how the cells differentiate by changing the chemical construct of the medium that the cells are grown in, as well as by inserting specific genes into the cells. This way, the stem cells can be grown at will into any type of cell needed. Adult, or somatic, stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are found in the matured tissues of adults. These cells are mainly used for repairing damaged or dying tissue, and can be used in similar ways as embryonic stem cells. Usually, somatic stem cells are found in areas such as bone marrow, as well as in the brain and heart. This provides for the opportunity to use one’s own stem cells to help treat one’s disease, instead of using an embryo’s stem cells and have the potential risk of rejection.
Link for this discussion:
American Medical Association