The words “stem cell” can often lead to a heated discussion, but what exactly are stem cells anyway? Oftentimes, people lump the term “stem cells” into one giant category, but a closer look reveals that not all stem cells are the same. Here is a closer look at the world of stem cells.
What is a Stem Cell?
Simply put, a stem cell is a cell that is capable of developing into any type of cell. You can think of it as a sort of biological “blank slate” – a cell that has not yet specialized itself for any specific purpose. These cells also have the ability to regenerate for a prolonged period of time in order to produce either more stem cells, or specialized cells for the body.
Where do Stem Cells Come From?
First and foremost, it should be noted that not all stem cells come from embryos. As a matter of fact, despite the amount of public attention they get, embryonic stem cells are among the smallest group of stem cells currently being researched. So where do the rest of these stem cells come from? Stem cells can be found from a variety of sources including:
Bone Marrow – Stem calls can be found in adult bone marrow, but they must be harvested from an adult donor. While the process is minimally invasive, it’s not exactly fun, either. The ability to collect these cells is often determined by the age and health of the donor.
Placenta and Cord Tissue – This type of stem cell is derived from the mesoderm during embryonic development and can differentiate into cells of that germ layer, namely muscle, cartilage, nerve and fat.
Amniotic Fluid – Similar to marrow cells, stem cells can be harvested from a sample of amniotic fluid during a pregnancy.
Teeth – Developing teeth provide a lower risk source of stem cells that can have a variety of medical uses.
Umbilical Cord Blood – One of the most plentiful, non-invasive, convenient, and controversy free sources of stem cells is umbilical cord blood. After childbirth, the umbilical cord is normally discarded by medical staff, but saving umbilical cord blood is a simple process that parents can request.
What Are Stem Cells Used For?
Stem cells have a wide variety of medical applications, and many researchers believe that they will dramatically change the future of medicine. They are currently being used to treat more than 80 diseases, and are being studied in clinical trials as treatments for countless other conditions. Additional uses include, but are not limited to:
- Facilitating transplants by reducing the risk of organ rejection.
- Cord blood cells can be saved and frozen for an exact match of donor cells at a later date.
- Testing new treatments and medications to understand how they will affect the body
- Understanding how some sicknesses and diseases work
More and more, researchers are turning their attention to umbilical cord blood as a pain free, controversy free source of stem cells for treatment and research. For more information on cord blood banking, contact CorCell at (702) 914-7250 for international calls, or (888) 882-2673 for US residents.