In recent times, stem cell banking and its health benefits are slowly gaining popularity. However, people also need to be aware of how stem cells assist in treating and preventing severe ailments.
This blog addresses all information related to stem cells, their therapeutic effects, and discussions around them.
What is stem cell banking?
Stem cell banking refers to storing stem cells extracted from the human body to process and store for future uses. Stem cell banks maintain low temperatures to avoid contamination and preserve the cell’s biological characteristics. Standardised quality control rules in these banks help store these cells for an extended period.
What are stem cells?
The human body has cells called stem cells that give rise to all other cells with specific roles. Under appropriate conditions, the stem cells divide to form daughter cells.
These daughter cells can then develop into new stem cells or differentiated cells with specific roles, such as bone, blood, brain, or heart muscle cells. There is no other cell in the body with the capacity to produce different cell types naturally.
What are the uses of stem cells?
Scientists think stem cells can help treat diseases since they can differentiate into various other cell types. These cells are said to be able to repair or replace damaged tissues or organs. Researchers conduct investigations on these cells to discover the origins of cell genetic flaws, the causes of illnesses, and the reasons why specific cells develop to be cancerous. They also test the efficacy and safety of new medications on these cells.
What are the sources of stem cells?
Stem cells can be of various types and are extracted from different sources. Some of the types of stem cells are as follows:
- Embryonic stem cells are derived from four to five days old embryos. During this stage, the embryo will have around 150 cells and are in a stage where they can divide to become new stem cells or differentiated cells.
- Adult stem cells: Very few stem cells can be extracted from adults, and the ability of adult stem cells to divide and differentiate is limited. The source of stem cells in an adult is bone marrow or fat.
- Perinatal stem cells: These stem cells are taken from the umbilical cord or the amniotic fluid. Recent research found the ability of these cells to divide and create new cells.
- Altered adult cells with properties of stem cells: Genetic reprogramming of normal adult cells can make them function as stem cells.
What is stem cell therapy?
Stem cell treatment, commonly referred to as regenerative medicine, uses stem cells or their byproducts to encourage the recovery of malfunctioning tissue.
As already mentioned, researchers can manipulate the stem cells cultivated in the labs into specialised cell types, such as heart, blood, or nerve cells.
The healthcare provider can implant these specialised cells replacing the damaged tissues. For example, these cells can be implanted into the heart muscle if the patient has cardiac problems. The healthy heart muscle cells that are transplanted can assist in the healing process.
Why is there extensive research in the area of stem cells?
Researchers are hoping that further studies on stem cells may help them in several ways, such as:
- Finding causes of diseases: By observing the transformation of stem cells into specific organs, the researchers may get an idea of the development of a disease.
- Create disease-free cells to replace unhealthy ones: Stem cells can be manipulated to develop into specialised tissues to restore tissues that have been harmed or impacted by any illness. Patients with spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis can benefit from stem cell therapy.
- Check the effectiveness and safety of new medications: Researchers use stem cell types to test new medicines for quality and safety before trying them on humans. The stem cells can be programmed into developing as specific tissues, and these tissues can be employed to evaluate new medications targeted at that particular tissue. The cells must be engineered to take on characteristics of the cell types that the drug targets for the testing of novel pharmaceuticals to be accurate.
What is the controversy surrounding stem cell research?
No ethical issues arise when dealing with adult stem cells. However, the method of harvesting human embryonic stem cells has recently been debated. An embryo dies when the embryonic stem cells are harvested. It is an ethical issue for those who believe it is morally wrong to destroy a fertilised embryo, which is life.
On the other side, proponents of stem cell research think that embryos are not yet fully viable . They point out that the donor couple whose eggs and sperm were used to make the embryo consented for research to proceed. Additionally, proponents claim that since some of the fertilised eggs produced by in-vitro fertilisation will be discarded anyhow by the doctors, it could be wiser to use them for scientific research.
There may be less need for human embryos in research due to the groundbreaking discovery of iPSCs (Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells).
Stem cell research results can significantly impact the healthcare industry with its regenerative capacity. However, with the debate over the creation, application, and disposal of human embryos, pro-life activists and people are putting a halt to more research into this area. This issue can be solved by scientists employing a novel technique that converts adult stem cells into stem cells capable of differentiating into any cell. There is still further work to be done before stem cell therapy can be used to treat diseases successfully.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is embryonic stem cell research a moral concern?
Many people who are pro-life are against research in embryonic stem cells since they believe that an embryo is a life. Killing an embryo for research is considered unethical, and the debate has been going on for a long time.
How do stem cells treat blood diseases?
Like stem cells cure other diseases, blood diseases can also be cured using stem cells’ regenerative capacity. These cells replace the diseased blood cells and restore blood and immune systems.