To list the ways in which
stem cells are important is a broad task because stem cells
use is virtually limitless. Stem cells have the potential to
treat an enormous range of diseases and conditions that
plague millions of people around the world. Their ability to
treat so many diseases rests on their unique properties of:
Self-renewal: stem cells
can renew themselves almost indefinitely. This is also
known as proliferation.
cells have the special ability to differentiate into
cells with specialized characteristics and functions.
Unspecialized: stem cells
themselves are largely unspecialized cells which then
give rise to specialized cells.
One reason that stem cells are important is due to human
development from stem cells. As such, an understanding of
their unique attributes and control can teach us more about
early human development. Diseases such as cancer are thought
to result from abnormal cell proliferation and
differentiation. This means that an understanding of where
things go 'wrong' in stem cell division and thus lead to
cancer can help us find ways to prevent the dysfunctional
changes or employ effective ways to treat them with targeted
Stem cell research has the potential to teach us more about
how birth defects occur and how these can be prevented or
possibly reversed. An understanding of the regulation and
chemical triggers of stem cell proliferation and
differentiation are key to addressing birth defects.
Probably the most important therapeutic value for stem cells
is the use of cell therapies. A cell therapy is a treatment
that replaces dysfunctional or diseased tissues with stem
At present, stem cells are already used in cell therapies
for treatment of some cancer types but this use is still
small in the scheme of diseases affecting humans today.
We are also using organ transplants but unfortunately, the
number of organs available for transplant is scarce in
comparison with those requiring an organ transplant. Many
people suffer endlessly awaiting a transplant and others
will die before they are able to receive one. The potential
for stem cells to replace damaged cells and tissues is an
exciting one for those who will require a transplant during
their lifetime. Diseases that it is expected stem cells will
treat one day include Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases
as well as those diseases affecting the retina and heart.
Clearly, stem cell use is exciting and holds great promise
for treating and perhaps one day curing many diseases. Their
importance ranges from an understanding of the principles
behind human development to the cell based therapies
addressing those aspects that go awry during development and
lead to disease.
For those who are already suffering from a disease that stem
cells can treat, such as certain cancer types, stem cells
may currently have more personal importance and relevance.
For others, it is likely that at some point in their life,
they or a loved one will be affected by a disease that stem
cells can treat, so it's good to keep abreast of stem cell
research. The well-being and health of those you love is
important and equally important are the stem cells that may
one day prolong and improve your own life.
(Author: Ian Murnaghan - Explore Stem Cells)