Did you know that there is a cell that can help benefit patients with spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer, and osteoarthritis? You must be thinking, what kind of cell can do all of this! The answer is a type of cell that has come into research relatively recently: Stem Cells.

Stem Cells are superheroes, in fact, they have a superpower – shapeshifting. Think of Stem Cells as the body’s raw materials. Under the correct conditions, Stem Cells divide to form what is commonly referred to as Daughter Cells. These Daughter Cells have the capability to become new Stem Cells or specialized cells with a more specific function. This is where shapeshifting comes in! Stem cells can morph into a variety of different specialized cells including blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells, and bone cells. The power to shapeshift is unique to Stem Cells. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new types of cells. 

Another important skill these microscopic organisms have is the power of replication. As most people learn, many Cells go through the process of Replication. However, this is not a skill muscle, blood, or nerve cells typically have. Stem Cells, conversely, divide all the time. How do these cells divide and replicate while conserving their differentiability? That is a question that many people are driven to answer. If we can discover how stem cells self-renew, this information can be applied to understand normal embryonic development, or misregulated as during aging, or even in the development of cancer.

Sure, Stem Cells have a superpower, but how can they use this power to help? Researchers and Doctors hope that studying stem cells can help with a wide range of things. One ability stem cells have is helping us better understand how diseases occur. Watching stem cells mature into bone, heart muscle, nerves, other organs, and tissue cells allows researchers and doctors to better understand how diseases develop in those regions. Additionally, Stem Cells serve as a good way to test new drugs for safety and effectiveness. New studies analyze how accurate drug testing is when stem cells are programmed into tissue-specific cells to test new drugs. If this form of testing proves to be effective in the future, it can prevent harm to test-subjects that would otherwise be the first guinea-pigs.  Alike most cells, stem cells have organelles. These cells have well-developed Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum, Golgi complexes, lysosomes and so much more. How stem cells have the ability to shape-shift remains a mystery, they contain similar organelles to other common cells. Studying these mysteries can uncover a variety of information helpful in the medical field and possibly allow scientists to develop their own synthetic superheroes in the future.

Stem Cells have infinite potential ways that they can be used in the medical field. The small superheroes are currently battling the issue of damaged cells and are used in something referred to as Stem Cell Therapy. Stem Cell Therapy is a type of regenerative medicine. Stem Cell Therapy allows for damaged tissue to be repaired by stem cells or their derivatives. This therapy is the next step in organ transplantation. Stem cells will be used in place of donor organs which are in limited supply. Unlike organs that come from human bodies, stem cells are grown in labs giving them the ability to be produced on a much larger scale. These stem cells are then manipulated to specialize in specific types of cells, such as heart muscle cells, blood cells, or nerve cells. These specialized cells are then implanted into a person where these healthy cells can contribute to the repairing of defective tissue. 

Stem Cells are being used right now! Bone marrow transplants are a type of stem cell transplant. These cells replace cells that might have been damaged by chemotherapy or disease. They also can serve as a way for the donor’s immune system to fight some types of cancers and blood-related diseases. The stem cells used from these treatments are adult stem cells.

How many types of these superheroes are out there? Researchers have found several sources of stem cells. These shapeshifters are compartmentalized into the following categories: Embryonic, Adult, and Perinatal stem cells. You may be wondering what is the difference between all of these stem cell types? These categories can be explained simply through two identifying factors – location and ability. Embryonic cells 3-5 day old embryos. They have the ability to divide into more cells and become any type of cell in the body. Perinatal Cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells, but they come from the amniotic fluid as well as umbilical cord blood. Finally, Adult Stem Cells are cells that are located in most adult tissues. Until recently, it was believed that Adult Stem Cells were limited to the type of cell they become. Researchers previously thought that they could only create similar types of cells. However, new evidence suggests that Adult Stem Cells can create other types of cells and this hypothesis is still being examined.

You may be wondering why these superheroes are not frequently being used if they have so much potential. The use of Stem Cells is unfortunately controversial. Embryonic Stem Cells originating from early-stage embryos raises ethical questions. Guidelines for human stem cell research in 2009. These guidelines determine how these cells are used in research and recommend how they should be obtained.

So, there you have it! There are small superheroes that have the potential to do so much. Who knows what they will begin battling next!

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