Stem cells have the unique ability to divide and develop into different types of cells that form various tissues and organs of the body during development and growth. Stem cells can be found in every organ but the bone marrow has the most abundant source of stem cells with the main function of restoring the blood and immune system. Throughout life, stem cells repair impaired or depleted cells, tissues and organs of the body that are damaged by disease, injury, or normal wear. When a stem cell divides, it has the potential to either remain as a stem cell (process known as “self-renewal”) or to become a different type of cell with a more specialized function (“differentiation”).
The Three Categories of Stem Cells
1- Human embryonic stem cells (hESC)
Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from embryos. They are present during the early stages of embryonic development and possess the ability to become, or “differentiate,” into almost any tissue within the body. These are the cells that have received critical public attention concerning the ethics of their use because they are derived from a human embryo created through in-vitro fertilization. There are currently no clinically approved treatments for embryonic stem cells.
2- Adult stem cells
Adult stem cells are obtained from tissues after birth. They can differentiate into a range of tissues, albeit a far narrower range than embryonic stem cells. These are the cells most currently used for cell-based therapies, including the work done at the Maharaj Institute.
There are many different types of adult stem cells: umbilical cord blood stem cells, bone marrow stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, endothelial stem cells, cardiac stem cells, muscle stem cells, and others.
The largest number of adult stem cells is present in the umbilical cord blood and in bone marrow and they have been used effectively for decades to treat cancers, blood and immune disorders. They can be easily collected and stored in a cryogenic bank for possible future use.
All tissues in our body are under continuous remodeling and new cells are being formed every day replacing old ones. When injury occurs the inflammatory process developed in the injured area sends out signals activating the stem cells and promoting tissue repair and growth. Also bone marrow stem cells move from the bone marrow into the circulation and go to the area of injury to assist with the repair.
As we get older, our stem cells are also affected by the aging process. The number and function of our stem cells decreases. This has a deleterious effect on the function of tissues and organs. A critical effect is on the immune system with a decrease in function of both, the innate and adaptive immune system.
3- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS)
These stem cells are generated in the laboratory by reprogramming adult cells that have already differentiated into a specific cell, such as a liver cell. These cells are either used for research purposes (e.g. experimental medicine testing toxicity of new drugs) or under research for potential future clinical use.
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