Stem cell research was a hot topic issue not that long ago. While scientists touted the soundness of medical research that found that stem cells have innumerable applications, including regenerative treatments for Parkinsons and heart disease, protesters were concerned that using stem cells to conduct research would mean the death of something precious, namely, embryos. The controversy surrounding stem cell research centered on the potential of destroying embryos, as at the time, only embryonic stem cells were considered pluripotent, or able to be made into any type of cell in the body. However, adult cells have been successfully changed into stem cells through genetic reprogramming, negating the fear of detractors of stem cell research. Today, stem cells are used to test the effectiveness of drug treatments, to help regenerate dying cells, and even to help in combating cancer.
What are stem cells?
So what exactly are stem cells? In a way, stem cells are the body’s most basic building blocks. Stem cells have the capability to develop into any kind of cell in the human body. They represent endless possibilities because they can even divide and reproduce themselves naturally. When they divide, the resulting “daughter” cells can either turn into stem cells or into specific cell types in a process known as differentiation. These differentiated cells can serve as blood cells, brain cells, bone cells, heart muscle cells, and more. In this way, they can function as a sort of repair system for the body. In a lab setting, the cells can be encouraged to become specific tissue cells, marrow cells, or nerve cells with specific functions.
Embryonic stem cells were the primary kind of cells used up until the last ten years or so. Stem cell research began in 1981, using mouse embryos. In 1998, scientists found a way to source stem cells from human embryos. These embryos were typically “left over” from in-vitro fertilization procedures (IVF) and donated with the knowledge of the donors. Embryonic stem cells are particularly useful because the three-to-five day old embryo, or blastocyst, is comprised of cells that will lay the groundwork for the entire body. These cells are capable of being turned into anything. Typically, the only adult stem cells that are able to generate replacements of themselves are found in the bone marrow, muscle, and in some populations, the brain, making their usefulness limited. Of course, as embryonic stem cells were sourced from reproductive centers, there was push back towards the scientific community in regards to their use. Luckily, in 2006, researchers found a way to reprogram the genetic predisposition of adult cells so that they could act as stem cells. These kinds of stem cells are referred to as “induced pluripotent stem cells.”
New medications are tested for safety and effectiveness by using differentiated cells created from induced pluripotent stem cells. However, the most important use of stem cells is in cell-based therapies. As stem cells possess regenerative properties, they offer new and exciting ways to treat degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and macular degeneration. Additionally, stem cells can be used to help relieve the symptoms of chronic pain, spinal cord injury, burns, osteoarthritis, and even rheumatoid arthritis. For many, finding a treatment center that specializes in cell-based therapies, such as NADStemCell, is the first step in finding a new lease on life.
Stem cell therapy and cancer
As in the case of other degenerative illnesses, stem cells have proven to be beneficial to the understanding and treatment of cancer. After receiving a patient is diagnosed with cancer, they may have to undergo testing to identify the form of cancer they have. They may undergo a non-invasive lung cancer MRI, for example. Once the patient’s cancer is labeled, it may not be easy to find a successful course of treatment. Not all cancer cells are the same. Even within a single malignant tumor, there may be multiple types of cells. Understanding the stem cell-like nature of cancer cells has lead researchers to the realization that a patients’ own stem cells can be used to help guide their course of treatment. Cancer cells created from pluripotent stem cells have provided a new way to screen anti-tumor drugs, speeding the testing process and allowing for individuals’ doctors to find the ideal medication for their unique form of cancer more quickly.
There is still much research to be done in relation to stem cells and their applications. However, there is evidence that they are useful in the treatment of a variety of illnesses and disorders, including but not limited to, cancer.