Understanding Stem Cells

Stem cells.  We have all heard this term thrown around in pro life campaigns, pro medical research ads, and even at time amongst friends and amongst family.  It is often used in conjunction with discussion of embryo’s etc.  First a differentiation between the two major types of stem cells in mammals must be made.  Adult stem cells vs Embryonic stem cells.  Adult Stem cells are in fact cells that are found in all living organisms that possess the ability to divide and differentiate into many but not all types of cells.  This in fact happens in the human body constantly and is why are bodies are able to replenish all the cells that make it up constantly.

The harvesting of Embryonic Stem Cells

Harvesting Stem Cells for Research

Embryonic stem cells however have the special ability to divide into any kind of cell while still maintaining the replenishment of internal organs etc.  This makes embryonic stem cells key for medical research and also an issue point for pro-life proponents.  These stem cells have the ability to be of great use for things such as tissue culturing for burn victims, limb regrowth for amputee’s and patients in need of organ transplants, platforms for new drugs and cancer treatments and even potential cures for many diseases.   There is even some data that shows that stem cells could inf act be used to treat paralysis in some patients. Many stem cells in fact no longer come directly from embryo’s but are in fact grown from cell lines that are maintained and then divided up for research purposes.

Diseases that stem cells can cure

Diseases that can be treated using stem cells.

Stem cells require two properties to be deemed a stem cell.  Those properties are the ability to self renew and the capacity to differentiate into different cell types meaning only cells which are totipotent or pluripotent.  In more detail the types of terminologies used to describe stem cells division can be looked at based upon the prefix of the word.  Toti when translated means ALL so totipotent can be interpreted as ALL potency meaning a totipotent stem cell that can become all types.  These are the type of stem cells found from embryonic tissues.  Pluri means Multi.  So like Totipotent , Pluripotent can be interpreted as Multipotent or Multipotency.  These stem cell can usually become any of the 3 embryological tissues.

In terms of ethical discussion of stem cell research, that argument may never be solved.  However the medical advantages of the research are hard to be debated against.  The real question becomes  is it worth it.

Posted on May 2, 2011, in Medicine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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