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Stem Cells - Fact Sheet

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Medical

Stem Cells - Fact Sheet

A stem cell is a cell that has two abilities: to divide and make identical copies of itself, and to give rise to any of the body's different cell types, including heart, muscle, skin and nerve cells. Human bodies have 210 different cell types.Where do stem cells come from?Human stem cells come from four different sources and in four varieties.

 

1. Embryonic stem cells are taken from a human embryo when it is about five days old. At this stage of development the embryo is a collection of 50 to 100 cells, smaller than a grain of sand, called a blastocyst.1

Human embryonic stem cells are thought to have much greater developmental potential than adult stem cells. This means that embryonic stem cells may be pluripotent - that is, able to give rise to cells found in all tissues of the embryo except for germ cells rather than being merely multipotent - restricted to specific subpopulations of cell types, as adult stem cells are thought to be.2


2. Adult stem cells are harvested from many different tissues in the body - including bone marrow, blood and skin - of a fully developed human being without harming the person.


3. Foetal stem cells are taken from the foetal remains after a termination of pregnancy.


4. Umbilical stem cells are drawn from the residual blood left in the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. These are in fact adult stem cells.2

 

 

How can stem cells be used in therapy?

Medical researchers believe that stem cell therapy has the potential to radically change the treatment of human disease. A number of adult stem cell therapies already exist, particularly bone marrow transplants that are used to treat leukaemia.

 

Stem cells have potential in many different areas of health and medical research. To start with, studying stem cells will help us to understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are due to problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions.


The use of stem cells to repair or replace damaged brain tissue is a new and exciting avenue of research. A neural stem cell is a special kind of cell that can multiply and give rise to other more specialized cell types. These cells are found in adult neural tissue and normally develop into several different cell types found within the central nervous system. At the moment, stem cell research for TBI is in its infancy, but future research may lead to advances for treatment and rehabilitation.3


At this stage in time, however there are no stem cell treatments available for brain injury anywhere in the world. Stem cell scientists have issued a warning to patients about the potentially grave risks of travelling internationally in search of untested stem cell treatments. Beware of international conmen promising safe effective stem cell treatment unavailable in the west, they are not to be trusted.4

 

References and further information

 

 

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