Every second more than 50 million cells of your body die (so my condolences while you’re reading this). But don’t despair- STEM CELLS are the knights in shining armor!
Find out how the manage to save your ass…ingments (and even your life) on a daily basis and which other talents they have - spoiler: stem cells rock!
First of all- what are stem cells? If you’re thinking of an ancient tribe - you aren’t even that wrong, because stem cells are concerning each higher organism!
Imagine a stem cell as a building stone - without them, life couldn’t be created. The very first stem cell - the fertilized ovum - is the foundation for the whole organism (so the tribe members come to exist). By multiplication and differentiation stem cells lead to more than 200 different cell types and even more than that they are literally the starting cells for the formation of all tissues and organs a living organism needs. Oha, stem cells seem to be nice guys.
How do I know a stem cell is a stem cell? -They have two defining capabilities that let you know they are stem cells indeed, if you ever meet one.
- They are able to specialize, so after division the secondary cell turns out to be a specialized cell like a neuron, blood, muscle or bone cell for example. That means they are universal cells - they aren’t originally made as a certain type of cell - they choose who they wanna be later - how cool is that? Thanks to that ability they fulfil important functions regarding regeneration and reparation functions in our bodies.
- Stem cells have the power to replace themselves by replication. They divide themselves and generate a copy with the exact same properties. You can imagine it like the old granny stem cell wants her twenties back - abracadabra- selfrenewal turns her wish into reality. I’ve already told you they are superstars!
These amazing skills don’t just make them to jacks of all trades but to interesting parts of regenerative and general medicine as well as actors in drug development, therapeutic use and even for disease modelling.
It’s important to differentiate two forms of stem cells concerning their origin. So the central forms are the embryonic and the adult stem cells. Baby and Mama!
The former may be called “mothers of all cells” as they can turn into any specific type of cell. But too good to be true - they do have a catch - they only exist for a short period of time - during the development of the blastocyst, the condition of the embryo after three to four days after fertilization, to be exact. For medical use that means growing an embryo and having to kill it afterwards. As killing has never been a good thing, the use of embryonic stem cells is ethically controversial and prohibited in several countries. (We agree on that!)
Adult stem cells are our body’s reservists - they are responsible for the body’s spare parts storeroom by creating substitutes. Bob The Builder is back! So if certain cells get destroyed, adult stem cells ensure to fix that again. They are true heroes, but spoiler - they also have a catch - they can no longer differentiate into all types of cells of an organism like embryonic stem cells could do. What’s also a pity - obtaining them turns out to be difficult, risky and expensive.
To characteristic stem cells further you distinguish them by their potency in totipotent, pluripotent and multipotent stem cells. Toti- pluri- what? I’ll enlighten that stem cell burdened darkness!
- Totipotent stem cells are able to differentiate into any kind of cell of an organism and furthermore they can give rise to an entirely functional organism. An example are fertilized ovums.
- Pluripotent stem cells are similar to totipotent ones - they can give rise to all tissue types but not to entire organisms. An example would be embryonic stem cells.
- And last but not least multipotent stem cells do have the power to differentiate into specific cell types within a tissue type. An example would be adult stem cells.
So far so good…but what shall we do with all of that information? Safe lives! (hopefully)
As research is amazing and stem cells are even more it’s possible to synthesize so called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) by adding genetic factors to ordinary tissue cells (adult stem cells) which leads to “reprogram” them. Their manmade qualities are similar to those of embryonic stem cells. As they create a lesser ethical issue in medical use than embryonic stem cells they have an enormous medical potential. What’s stunning is that iPS cells can be produced corresponding to the patient’s needs. So the problem of immune rejection may be solved. Furthermore, it’s possible to let them differentiate into neurons, which are hard to get in a natural way, so they play a huge role in healing diseases and injuries concerning the nervous system as well as other illnesses.
What else shall we do with these multi talents? Heal, help and hypnotize - just kidding. (or not: who knows what medicine may find out?)
Stem cells are real all-rounders - their potential in medicine is huger than huge. They are used to replace damaged cells after heart attacks, burns, spinal cord injuries, strokes, specific illnesses and much more. Scientists work on using stem cells for synthetic organs and tissues. Even the pharma industry uses them for developing medicine, especially to prevent side effects and to reduce animal testing. What is more: stem cells of patients can be used to model the mechanism of their disease development in order to better understand the illness and to improve the healing chances.
Stem cells, they more we get to know you, the more we love you!
Keep up your uber-great work and we’re looking forward on doing amazing projects with you!