Most people hear the term “stem cell” and they think of controversy. This is because there is a lot of debate of whether certain types of stem cells should be used a curative approach to many life altering diseases or injuries such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease among others. What most don’t understand is that there is not just one type of stem cell, instead there are many different types of stem cells and not all of them are of the controversial variety.
Adult stem cells. This is one of the types of stem cells and they will replace cells that die, which will allow the body to restore the tissue. Each bodily material such as bone, muscle, bone marrow and the like all contain their own stem cells, so that type of stem cell will only be able to work as a cell for that bodily material. For instance, a muscle stem cell will only be able to regenerate muscle, it will not be able to regenerate skin.
Fetal stem cells. This is the type of stem cell that is taken from a fetus, which is a baby that is still growing. The stem cells are taken from the fetus at about 10 weeks of gestation. This type of stem cell is beneficial because they enable rapid growth and development. They are tissue specific like the adult stem cells but these are capable of rapid growth.
Cord blood stem cells. This type of stem cell comes from the umbilical cord at birth. It is abundant in blood forming stem cells and will work well to treat conditions of the blood, such as cancer, if the need arises. They are tissue specific like the fetal and adult cells.
Embryonic stem cells. This is the type of stem cell that raises the most controversy. These cells are taken from very early embryos. These cells are immature, so they will need to be injected into a more mature cell but they are more beneficial than others as they are not tissue specific. So, in theory the embryonic stem cell may have originally been a skin stem cell but if implanted properly it may become and function like a muscle stem cell.
Induced pluripotent stem cells. These stem cells are also known as iPS cells and they are those cells that have been reprogrammed to function as a specific type of cell. This technology was discovered in 2006 and they are crated by coaxing specialized cells to express genes that are usually only found in embryonic stem cells, which will control how the cell functions. This type of stem cell is beneficial in patient as well as disease specific treatments, although the technique needs to be refined to make the cells as effective and safe as possible for the patient.
While the topic is a hot button issue for many, it cannot be denied just how much could be achieved if all stem cells were harvested in a controlled and humane manner. As a result, further stem cell research might just prove to be an investment which will benefit all of us, an investment which will generate impressive long-term dividends.