Stem cells are located throughout the body. They are unique from other cells in that they can divide easily, and they don’t have a defined purpose. In certain parts of the body, stem cells act as a sort of a repair system. They divide and then take on the characteristics of another type of cell in order to repair or restore function in that area.
Stem Cell Research
In recent decades, researchers have been studying stem cells for possible use in a variety of medical treatments. Some of this research has been conducted with embryonic stem cells from human embryos, while other research is conducted on adult stem cells. In the laboratory, researchers have learned how to reproduce these cells. They are also discovering new ways to essentially reprogram the cells to perform a specific function. And recently, researchers have discovered ways to alter other body cells to make them take on characteristics of stem cells. It’s a growing field of medical research.
Stem Cell Treatments
Stem cell therapies are already used for some diseases, while other potential treatments are still being studied or developed. Several different blood disorders can now be treated with stem cell therapies. These include different types of leukemia, lymphoma and anemia. Stem cell therapies are also being researched for diseases like macular degeneration of the eyes, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Medical professionals expect many advances in this field down the road.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institutes of Health; National Marrow Donor Program