What are stem cells?

Stem cells are vital cells of the human body. They generate healthy cells to replace those which have been affected by disease. Under specialized conditions, stem cells can be guided to become specific cells which can be administered to patients, to regenerate and repair their damaged tissues. In their resting state, stem cells are undifferentiated, waiting to be transformed into specific cells – as and when the body requires them. Stem cells have been located in the brain, bone marrow, blood, blood vessels, skin and skeletal muscle. They are derived from two key sources. The first is from adult body tissues, and the second is from embryos. A human body contains stem cells throughout the entirety of the person’s life. Therefore, they can be called upon when needed. Adult stem cells are non-specific but are still more specialized than embryonic stem cells. in our day-to-day life, our bodies constantly renew our tissues, and in specific areas such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells are routinely used. Stem cells in these locations will divide to generate new body tissues, which are used for maintenance and repair. Embryonic stem cells are derived from a blastocyst (essentially a ball of cells). An embryo takes the form of a blastocyst between 3 and 5 days after fertilization. Typically, embryonic stem cells are extracted from surplus embryos as a result of in vitro fertilization. Adult stem cells do not present the same ethical issues that embryonic stem cells do. However, embryonic stem cells are less specialised than adult stem cells, meaning they are more malleable and have wider application.

Stem cells and inflammation

Inflammation has been found to have a role in almost every chronic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis and fatty liver disease. There is promising new research involving the use of stem cells to repair tissue and create treatments effective in reducing inflammation. In cases of chronic inflammation, the immune response deployed by the body is too strong. It is thought that stem cells may be able to control the immune response by reducing the activity of specific cells. The anti-inflammatory effect of stem cells is increasingly being studied, as well as their use of bubble-like structures which are an exciting alternative released from the stem cells .

Cell therapy

Stem cell therapy has been a firm favourite research area in recent years. It has become a hopeful and advanced research topic – with many questions over its future impact. With the development of stem cell treatments, expectations have greatly been raised. However, it has taken decades of research before we were allowed a glimpse of the potential of stem cells to treat disease. Hopefuls believe that stem cells can be an effective treatment for diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration. Despite there being much more research required, some stem cell treatments are currently being utilised by the NHS. These include bone marrow stem cell transplants to treat leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia . One of the key turning points in stem cells therapy occurred in 2006, when scientists reprogrammed a certain type of mice cells to become pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are capable of transforming into a wide range of cell types. If human cells can reliably be converted to a pluripotent state, then it would enable stem cell treatment specific to the patient and disease .