The Basics on Stem Cells

19 August 2015

Stem cells are the basic, undifferentiated cells from which all other cells in the human body are grown.

Embryonic stem cells become specialized cells as a body grows, and turn into tissues and organs such as the lungs or heart. Adult stem cells generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease- the continue to replenish the body throughout a person's life.

Because they are effectively growing new specialized cells, there are immense therapeutic potentials in stem to treat diseases. When a stem cell divides (this is a normal process in any kind of animal, including humans), each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. In a lab setting, stem cells can be made to become specific kinds of cells as needed by the patient.

It’s been more than 30 years since stem cell extraction was first discovered, and 17 years since the extraction of human stem cells was demonstrated. The first extractions were done from in vitro fertilized embryos. Then, in 2006, the reprogramming of specialized cells to be returned to a stem cell state was discovered in 2006. These are called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPSC).

Stem cells research is leading to tremendous discoveries on how the body works, what goes wrong and how it might be healed. By understanding how cells divide and change, how the become specialized, we are increasingly able to intervene to enhance and supplement the body’s own ability to heal. This is leading to hypothesis on curing cancer, and a variety of cell based therapies such as heart repair, macular regeneration, spinal cord regeneration, stroke response, skin repair in burns, and cures for various form of arthritis. We are still at the very beginning of understanding the potential of stem cells to heal our bodies.

For more information:

National Institutes of Health 

California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Stem Cell Thailand