Institute for Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Therapy

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How Stem Cell Works

 

Microscopic view of a colony of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells being studied in developmental biologist James Thomson's research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison

1. Introduction to How Stem Cells Work

 

Many diseases kill cells within organs, claiming lives or impairing a person's ability to live a normal life. For example, about 5.8 million Americans have heart failure and 670,000 people are diagnosed with it each year [source: Centers for Disease Control]. In heart failure, much of the heart muscle itself dies, so the heart cannot sufficiently pump blood.

Similarly, about 23.6 million Americans have diabetes [source: NIDDK, NIH]. Five to 10 percent of these people have Type I diabetes in which the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are dead. Finally, about 1 million Americans live with Parkinson's disease [source: Parkinson's Disease Foundation]. In this disease, cells that make the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps control movement, die. Patients with Parkinson's disease have tremors and uncontrollable movements. But what if these dead cells could be replaced with fresh cells? Could the patients be treated and live normal lives? That's the goal of stem cell research.

In this article, we'll look at stem cells, starting with the accompanying picture above. In the photo, the embryonic stem cell colonies are the rounded, dense masses of cells. The flat elongated cells are fibroblasts used as "feeder cells." We'll also find out how stem cells work, discover their potential to treat disease and get inside the ongoing debate surrounding their research and use. But first, let's cover some basics.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Lee Dempsey (How Stuff Works)

2. Stem Cell Basics


A stem cell is essentially the building block of the human body. Stem cells are capable of dividing for long periods of time, are unspecialized, but can develop into specialized cells. The earliest stem cells in the human body are those found in the human embryo. The stem cells inside an embryo will eventually give rise to every cell, tissue and organ in the fetus's body. Unlike a regular cell, which can only replicate to create more of its own kind of cell, a stem cell is pluripotent. When it divides, it can make any one of the 220 different cells in the human body. Stem cells also have the capability to self-renew -- they can reproduce themselves many times over.

There are several types of stem cells, including:

Embryonic Stem Cells - Embryonic stem cells include those found within the embryo, the fetus or the umbilical cord blood. Depending upon when they are harvested, embryonic stem cells can give rise to just about any cell in the human body.

Adult Stem Cells - Adult stem cells can be found in infants, children and adults. They reside in already developed tissues such as those of the heart, brain and kidney. They usually give rise to cells within their resident organs.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPSC)- These stem cells are adult, differentiated cells that have been experimentally "reprogrammed" into a stem cell-like state.

So how do all these types of stem cells work? And what are their potential uses? Let's find out -- starting with embryonic stem cells.

 Read more... CLICK HERE to visit How Stuff Works? website  

 

 

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