What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are primitive, undifferentiated, and unspecialised cells that are found in multicellular organisms. Stem cells can be thought of as "uncommitted cells", as they have not yet assumed a specific function in the body. Embryonic stem (ES) cells are present everywhere during early development before the formation of organs and organ systems. Stem cells are stimulated by their environment into becoming specialized cells, such as muscle cells or brain cells.
On top of being able to differentiate into the different types of cells and tissues that make up the human body, stem cells maintain their ability to replicate themselves over relatively long periods of time compared to other kinds of progenitor/precursor cells.
Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
Scientists can artificially induce stem cells to differentiate into specialized cell types, such as muscles or nerve cells. This means scientists may manipulate stem cells and use them to replace damaged cells, decrease inflammation and also treat disease. This ability makes them a powerful tool in regenerative medicine where stem cells could be used to repair or replace tissue, or even whole organs, that have been damaged due to injury or disease. Stem cells can also reduce the effects of aging by regenerating healthy cells.
Stem cell therapy is still in its early stages, but it has already shown success in experiments treating patients with various conditions including blindness, cerebral palsy, heart disease and cancer.
Stem Cells & Cancer
In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in stem cells as they have been shown to have great potential for both cancer research and cancer treatment. Stem cells have helped scientists increase their understanding of cancers. Through studying embryonic stem cells, scientists have been able to learn more about how different forms of cancer originate in the body.
Stem cells have already helped with cancer treatment complications, such as the damage caused by chemo-therapy, which kills both healthy as well as diseased cells.
What is the Future of Stem Cells?
Stem cells have been proven to be an effective tool in regenerative medicine as they have the ability to replace damaged cells, decrease inflammation and also treat diseases. However, stem cell therapy is still in its early stages and researchers are working hard to determine the full extent of their benefits. Scientists hope that stem cells could help treat conditions that currently can not be treated effectively or efficiently with conventional treatments including heart disease, blindness, cerebral palsy and cancer. Stem cell research undoubtedly has great potential and paints a hopeful picture for future medicine.
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