You’ve probably heard about stem cells in the news, or read about them and how they’ve helped treat a disease, or a serious injury, but have you wondered how they might help you or a loved one?
Stem cells offer so much promise, and are considered to be the bedrock of regenerative medicine.
What are stem cells?
Stems cells are special human cells that have the ability to develop into many different cell types, from muscle cells to brain cells. In some cases they can also fix damaged tissues.
Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells.
These cells become new stem cells (self-renewal) or they become specialised cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells.
No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate into new cell types.
Stem cells in medicine
Haematopoietic cells (HSCs) which are found in bone marrow and new born baby’s umbilical cord blood, can transform into any type of cell and and are currently being used in stem cell treatments to treat various blood cancers and disorders including leukaemia and lymphoma, Parkinsons and rheumatoid arthritis.
Since stem cells have the ability to turn into various other types of cells, scientists believe that they can be useful for treating and understanding diseases.
According to the Mayo Clinic1 stem cells can be used to:
- Grow new cells in a laboratory to replace damaged organs or tissues
- Correct parts of organs that don’t work properly
- Research causes of genetic defect in cells
- Research how diseases occur or why certain cells develop into cancer cells
- Test new drugs for safety and effectiveness
How does stem cell therapy work?
Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, promotes the repair response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives.
Stem cells are grown in labs and manipulated to specialise into specific types of cells, such as heart muscle, blood cells or nerve cells.
These specialised cells can then be planted into a person. For example, if a person has heart disease, the cells could be injected into heart muscle. The healthy transplanted heart muscle cells could then contribute to repairing defective heart muscle.
- Stem cells: What they are and what they do. (Accessed 2019, June 8). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bone-marrow-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art-20048117
BSc (Hons) Microbiology
Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.