During the NHS Alliance 2012 conference the subject of stem cells was brought into the spotlight, explaining the potential advantages that could be provided by the research conducted.
So what are stem cells?
Stem cells are the building blocks of every living animal; in humans the first stem cell is the embryonic stem cell, also known as the zygote. The zygote has the potential to ‘specialise’ into any type of cell in the body, e.g. a skin cell or a muscle cell. This ability to become anything is what scientists call potency.
As the cells become more ‘specialised’ they become less potent, i.e. they have a smaller pool of cells they can become. Two types of these cells are hematopoietic stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells.
Hematopoietic stem cells make up the immune system, the blood and the red bone marrow. The red bone marrow is found normally at core of the bone.
Mesenchymal stem cells give rise to all other cell types in the body including the bone marrow surrounding the red bone marrow, the bone, muscles, tendons/ligaments, adipose tissue (fat), cartilage and connective tissue.
What could they do?
In the future stem cells could regrow irreparable damage to organs and limbs. Donor heart transplants could become a thing of the past.
In an experiment performed by a team of scientists in the University of Pittsburgh took a mouse heart and stripped it of its cells to leave the cartilage framework where they injected adult human stem cells. The final heart had a steady 40-50 bpm and responded to various drugs, yet the contractions weren’t strong enough to pump blood around a body.
When you have a cut or injury stem cells are sent there to repair the area, however they leave once the hormone telling them to fix the area ceases to tell them to fix the area, roughly near the start of the repairing process, so scar tissue is left behind. But when stem cells are present throughout the entire healing process the scar tissue present is next to none.
What to do about it now
The world of stem cells has only been explored for a limited amount of time. At the moment there aren’t many applications of stem cells that we know of. As the research progresses in the years to come, stem cells could hold the power to regenerative medicine. Stem cells are most abundant and potent when they are collected from the umbilical cord of a new born. Storing these stem cells for use at a later date is what a few companies currently do throughout the world. Almost all offer a reduced cord blood plan where the mesenchymal stem cells along with the blood cells are removed when the sample is spun down. Mesenchymal stem cells are most likely the most important of the stem cells that could be stored for the simple fact that they make up the vast majority of the body’s internal organs, muscle and flesh. Where as the Hematopoietic stem cells are solely used to restore the blood characteristics, the immune system and the red bone marrow. One company in the UK called Cells4Life store the entire cord blood (their Platinum Service) without losing the mesenchymal stem cells. You can book online with them to receive a Welcome Pack and read more online by following the link to their website above.
From this it is clear that stem cells are of the utmost importance to our bodily functions, without them we wouldn’t last very long at all, they are what made us and what sustains us. The oldest woman to pass away and donate her body to science revealed that she had 1 stem cell left in her entire body, thus the stem cell count in our body decreases as we age. This show how important storing stem cells from the umbilical cord blood can be, and how effective stem cells are at maintaining our health.