What Is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells have the ability to build every tissue in the human body, hence have great potential for future therapeutic uses in tissue regeneration and repair. In order for cells to fall under the definition of “stem cells,” they must display two essential characteristics. First, stem cells must have the ability of unlimited self-renewal to produce progeny exactly the same as the originating cell. This trait is also true of cancer cells that divide in an uncontrolled manner whereas stem cell division is highly regulated. Therefore, it is important to note the additional requirement for stem cells; they must be able to give rise to a specialized cell type that becomes part of the healthy organ.1
Stem Cell Therapy Overview
Stem cells can be guided into becoming specific cells that can be used to regenerate and repair diseased or damaged tissues in people.
People who might benefit from stem cell therapies include those with spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer and osteoarthritis.
Stem cells may have the potential to be grown to become new tissue for use in transplant and regenerative medicine. Researchers continue to advance the knowledge on stem cells and their applications in transplant and regenerative medicine.
Researchers have discovered several sources of stem cells:
- Embryonic stem cells. These stem cells come from embryos that are three to five days old. At this stage, an embryo is called a blastocyst and has about 150 cells.
These are pluripotent (ploo-RIP-uh-tunt) stem cells, meaning they can divide into more stem cells or can become any type of cell in the body. This versatility allows embryonic stem cells to be used to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs.
- Adult stem cells. These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat. Compared with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability to give rise to various cells of the body.
Until recently, researchers thought adult stem cells could create only similar types of cells. For instance, researchers thought that stem cells residing in the bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells.
However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be able to create various types of cells. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create bone or heart muscle cells.