What Are Stem Cells?

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Some stem cell facts : Stem cells are unspecialized cells.  What this means is that stem cells sit in a state of preparation and from that state can become any type of cell that the body may need.  This process happens through cell division and the reason stem cells are so special is because they can sit in a state of inactivity for a very long time and not lose the capability of renewal.

Since they can develop into any type of body cell they can also work as a body repair system.  Stem cell will continue to divide, replenish, and restore the body throughout the lifetime of that body.  When a stem cell divides each division then has the potential to become a specialized cell or remain a stem cell with all of the future division potential.  They are the body’s way of creating constant renewal and healing for many of the body’s systems.

Stem cells can be introduced into a set of tissues or organs that need repair medically.  This gives the body a chance to replace worn tissues and heal the damaged parts of the body.  There are two types of stem cells embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic somatic stem cells.  Scientists have studied with both types of stem cells and have used them from both animals and humans.

Embryonic Stem Cells
A living body needs stem cells starting at the point of a three day old embryo.  These embryos are called blastocysts and this bundle of cells is what will become a full human being.  These bundles of are made up of stem cells and within them contain all the blueprints for the body including organs, tissue, skin, and reproductive systems.  As these cells mature, most of them lose the ability to recreate themselves, but there are a few adult cells; like bone marrow, that can create replacement cells in the case of disease or other injuries.

Embryonic stem cells hold a vast potential for healing and the treatment of diseases, because they can transform into virtually any organ that the body needs.  Research with stem cells is helping to bring understanding to the world of human development, but it is also highly controversial.  Many of the embryonic stem cells that have been used in research and study have come from embryos that were created for in vitro fertilization and have been donated for research purposes.

Adult Stem Cells
Non-embryonic somatic stem cells, although still with their benefits, do not seem to hold as much potential as embryonic stem cells do.  These “adult” cells have already taken the specific programming of one cell type.  They still hold the ability to regenerate that type of cell, but they cannot be used in any other parts of the body.
This field of study is still relatively new, but the hope is that down the line using stem cells could help to treat serious diseases like Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and many more.  This is especially true for embryonic stem cells because they have not yet taken on the programming of a specific cell.

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