What are stem cells used for? There are many potential uses for stem cells, from the treatment of cancer to chronic conditions, acute injuries and more. Scientists continue to perform research on stem cells to maximize their therapeutic benefits and possible contributions to the medical industry.
In this article:
- Why Are Stem Cells Important?
- What Are Stem Cells Used For in Medicine?
- What Are Stem Cells Used For in the Body?
- Why Are Stem Cells Valuable in Research?
What Are Stem Cells Used For? | Some FAQs Answered
While stem cells are important for treating people with major health issues, they are also advancing new frontiers in healthcare.
Why Are Stem Cells Important?
Stem cells are important for many reasons, because they have the unique ability to:
- Hone to sites within the human body that are in need of repair
- Repair and regenerate damaged tissues
- Positively impact the inflammatory and immune response within patients
- Promote repair mechanisms by impacting the micro-environment into which they are injected or infused
Additionally, stem are being explored for applications related to:
- Drug development and discovery – Stem cells allow new drug compounds to be screened and tested on human cells, limiting the need for animal testing and providing physiologically relevant results.
- Toxicology testing – Stem cells allow compounds to be screened on human cells, for example, liver and heart cells, where the toxic effects can be highly detrimental. Stem cell toxicology has the potential to fundamentally change the screening process for the large number of synthetic chemicals to which humans are exposed – for example, cleaning agents, industrial compounds, pesticides and more.
- Personalized medicine – Stem cells can be sourced from a patient and used to determine exactly how the individual’s diseased cells will respond to specific drugs.
Clearly, the benefits of stem cell research are expanding, because rates of scientific publications and clinical trials have grown rapidly in recent years.
What Are Stem Cells Used For in Medicine?
There are three leading uses of stem cells in medicine: basic knowledge, cell-based therapies, and drug discovery. In addition to using stem cells to better understand human development, scientists utilize stem cells to find or formulate drugs that could treat illnesses.
They also continue to study stem cells for a wide range of cell therapy applications, including but not limited to therapies with the potential to treat heart diseases, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, neurological conditions, and more.
What Are Stem Cells Used For in the Body?
There are several types of stem cells, including: embryonic, adult, induced pluripotent, and perinatal stem cells, such as cord blood, placental and amiotic stem cells. Each of these has different therapeutic uses in the body.
Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells are controversial because of their derivation from 4-5 day old human embryos. However, these cells can be differentiated into a wide variety of cell types. This stem cell therapy can be utilized for the following:
- replacement of a tissue or organ that is diseased or injured
- production of insulin for diabetes or heart muscle cells for repair after a heart attack
- replacement of damaged neurons caused by a spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s disease, or other neurological issues
Adult Stem Cells
Adult stem cells are non-controversial cells found in living adults. Everyone has these cells present in their bone marrow, fat tissue, dental pulp, peripheral blood and other sites throughout the body.
In contrast to embryonic stem cells (ESCs), adult stem cells are sourced from living humans. They are non-controversial, because they leave the adult donor unharmed. Although the term includes the word “adult,” they can be derived from newborn babies, children, adults and senior citizens.
These cells are increasingly becoming used within cell therapy applications. One type of adult stem cell is hematopoietic stem cell (HSC). HSCs have long been used in medicine within a procedure known as hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). This procedure dates back more than 60 years to 1957.
Another type of adult stem cell, known as the mesenchymal stem cell or MSC, is commonly used within orthopedic and pain management applications.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)
iPSCs are adult stem cells that are manipulated in the laboratory to behave like embryonic stem cells (ESCs). The key benefit of iPSCs is that they have many of the traits of ESCs, without the controversy of being derived from embryos. In contrast to embryonic stem cells, iPSCs can be produced from adult tissues, commonly skin or blood cells, making them non-controversial.
iPSCs are pluripotent in nature, which means they can give rise to all of the cell types that form the human body. Scientists find these cells useful for drug development and discovery applications, as well as for cell therapy applications. On the therapeutic front, Cynata Therapeutics is an Australian regenerative medicine company that has initiated the world’s first human clinical trial involving an iPSC-derived therapeutic product.
There are also several physician-led studies underway in Japan in which iPSC-derived cellular products are being administered to human patients.
Cord Blood Stem Cells
Cord blood stem cells are sourced from a baby’s umbilical cord. These cell are stored by companies known as cord blood banks. Cord blood stem cells are commonly used to treat children with leukemia and some genetic blood disorders.
Amniotic Fluid Stem Cells
Amniotic fluid stem cells are cells found in the protective fluid of an unborn child. The fluid is often discarded as a medical waste during cesarean deliveries, and it is collected for cell harvesting. The collected fluid is known to have a high therapeutic potential.
Placental Stem Cells
According to placental stem cell expert, Dr. Ornella Parolini, placenta-derived stem cells are all of the cells derived from the placental tissue, to include the amniotic and chorionic membranes, the chorionic villi, the umbilical cord, and the maternal component of the placenta, called the decidua.
Celularity, Inc., is a company whose express focus is to leverage cell populations within the postpartum human placenta. Founded on the pioneering work of Dr. Robert Hariri, the company is uniquely positioned to harness the potential of most biocreative event on earth, human birth.
Why Are Stem Cells Valuable in Research?
Stem cell research helps scientists to better understand the human body. It also supports drug development and discovery by allowing new drug compounds to be tested on human cells (in a test tube or culture dish). Importantly, it allows for the development of living medicines.
Stem cells also aid researchers in understanding normal versus diseased patterns of development, including:
- how tissues and organs are formed
- how aging affects normal bodily function
- how specific diseases impact human health
A better understanding of stem cells may lead to earlier detection of illnesses, better diagnoses, or more effective treatments.
With these frequently asked questions about what are stem cells used for, we can achieve a deeper understanding of stem cells’ importance and their value to human life.
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