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What Are Stem Cells And How Are They Used In Therapy?

Stem cells are the type of cells in the body which are naturally present in various body niches. They stay in an inactive form and have a unique ability to divide and develop into many other cell types of the body.

The whole idea of a miraculous healing of the body is fascinating. But it is achievable and has become a reality today with technologies in regenerative medicine. Stem cells are leading this field, but many ideas and concepts are still unclear. Here we try to explain you what are stem cells and why are they important. Stem cells are the type of cells in the body which are naturally present in various body niches. They stay in an inactive form and have a unique ability to divide and develop into many other cell types of the body. When a stem cell divides, it may either become another stem cell or a specific cell, such as a blood cell, a brain cell, or a muscle cell.This property allows them to replace the damaged cells of the body and also renew themselves.

Where do the stem cells come from?

Stem cells are the type of cells in the body which are naturally present in various body niches. They stay in an inactive form and have a unique ability to divide and develop into many other cell types of the body. When a stem cell divides, it may either become another stem cell or a specific cell, such as a blood cell, a brain cell, or a muscle cell. This property allows them to replace the damaged cells of the body and also renew themselves. Stem cells are broadly categorized into Adult and Embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are the cells that are isolated from the embryo which is only a few days old. These can form literally any cell of the body. However, their isolation and growth has become a concern due to ethical reasons. This has limited their research in several countries that have banned their use. Further, due to mixed belief and religious reasons, there have been controversies revolving around them which enforce the moral status and rights of an embryo. For this reason, adult stem cells are a preferred choice for therapy. One of the most popular sources of Adult stem cells is the Bone marrow. It has been traditionally used for transplants in leukemia patients. Today, it is the most researched source for stem cells due to their enormous regenerative potential. There are also stem cells present in adipose tissue, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord. Depending on the type of application and disease state, their use has been optimized as part of several clinical studies.

What is the scope of Stem cell therapy?
Stem cell therapy today has applications for a myriad of degenerative diseases including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, cardiovascular diseases etc. Stem cells are transplanted through either of the 2 modes- Autologous or Allogenic implantation. Autologous therapy is when patient's own stem cells are isolated from Bone marrow or Adipose tissues and transplanted back at the site of damage. Allogenic transplantation involves implanting donor stem cells (bone marrow/ umbilical cord etc) which are immunologically naïve. Depending on case to case basis, the route of administration and mode will be decided y stem cell experts and clinicians. There are several factors influencing this decision including age, disease stage, previous medical history and family history. Stem cell therapy has helped improved the quality of life of patients. When transplanted into the body, stem cells will migrate to the site of damage and release therapeutic growth factors that help in repairing damaged tissues as well as regenerating new functional cells. This will prevent further progression of the disease. Therefore, unlike conventional therapies, stem cell therapy does not just treat the symptoms of the disease but works on the root cause of the disorder. This process however is not instantaneous but takes a longer time.  The extent of recovery is again subjective. Stem cell therapy is thus becoming a new ray of hope for no-hope disorders. For instance, in a Diabetic patient, stem cells will generate insulin producing beta cells of the pancreas, thus reducing dependence on insulin. They also reduce the associated co-morbid conditions such as Diabetic Retinopathy, foot ulcers, Nephritis and glaucoma. Patients have reported positive outcomes.

What is future scope of stem cells?
Stem cells are not just used for therapeutic purposes. They are also being researched as models for understanding various diseases and testing drugs for treatment. There is also scope for generation of artificial organs in future using stem cells on biomaterial scaffolds. This has opened up the field of tissue engineering in regenerative medicine. A lot of studies have been focused on generation of wound healing patches and bone tissues.


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