Stem cells are continually being studied to this day and we still only scratched the surface of what they can really do. We still do not know how to fully utilize its vast potentialities and we still do not have a perfect substitute for human embryonic stem cells.
That being said, researchers are continuing their studies and to, hopefully, come up with a way that will unlock all of the stem cells’ attributes. But, what do we know so far about them? Read on to find out some facts that you should know about stem cells.
Stem Cells Have Unique Properties
What makes stem cells quite unique is that they have three different properties that are just not present in other cells in the body.
For one, they are unspecialized cells meaning that, by default, they do not have a pre-programmed set of functions. Unlike heart muscles which are made up of cells that control the beating and the rhythm of the heart, stem cells just do not have that property, at least, not yet.
Another unique characteristic of stem cells is that they are able to renew and divide indefinitely. We know from numerous studies that they are the ones responsible for the repair and regeneration of some of our body’s cells. Therefore, they are able to make copies of themselves until the damage is fixed.
Lastly, they can turn into “Specialized Cells” that have a specific function (refer to the previous example about heart muscles). The process of turning into specialized cells is known as Differentiation.
Stem Cells Have Different Aspects of Potency
The word Potency has a specific meaning, but in the context of stem cells, it actually refers its ability to give rise or to turn into other cells of the body (depending on the need). They are categorized as:
Totipotent – they are considered to be the “Base” where stem cells can actually turn into the different cells of the body.
Pluripotent – A branch of the aforementioned category, pluripotent stem cells can differentiate into other cell types except, of course, to Totipotent cells.
Multipotent – A descendant of pluripotent cells, Multipotent stem cells can turn into cell lines or specific tissue (again, depending on the body’s needs).
Unipotent – A descendant of Multipotent cells, instead of creating multiple cell lines, this category of stem cell can give rise to only one cell (hence the prefix uni-).
Stem Cell Sources
Before stem cells can be extracted, they have to be identified first, then isolated, and then they’re ready for harvest.
That being said, these specialized cells can actually be acquired in the different parts of our body.
The stem cells that reside on our own body are known as Adult Stem Cells but they can also be referred to as Somatic Stem Cells. They are called as such because they can be found in the different organs of our body including the heart, brain, the bone marrow, the skin, and many others.
Embryonic stem cells, as you can tell, actually does not come from our own body, but is instead acquired from an embryo. You can even extract some from the umbilical cord blood and it is a great source of stem cells as well.
Take note that embryonic stem cells are mired with controversy due to the nature and origin of the said stem cells.
Stem Cells’ Major Benefits
You could say that stem cells are a “miracle cure” because they can be used for the treatment of various medical conditions.
To this day, it is used for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, Spinal Cord Injuries, Some types of cancer, Type 1 Diabetes, Stroke, and many others.
Scientists are still studying the different properties and uses of stem cells. Maybe one day, we can finally cure whatever ails us.