The Beginner’s Guide to Stem Cells

Stem cells are said to be the future of medicine. So, what exactly are stem cells and why are they so important? Here you will find all of the basics to understanding stem cells, their purpose, and why they truly are the future of medicine.

Stem cells are a naturally occurring group of cells found in both the developing and adult human body. They are undifferentiated cells that can differentiate into any of the more than 200 different cell types in our body.  There are many different types of stem cells and are the foundation for every organ and tissue. Besides stem cells engineered in a lab, there are two types: embryonic and adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are traditionally derived from a three- to five-day-old embryo in an in vitro fertilization clinic. Except for placental or umbilical cord tissue, they have the ability to develop into any type of cell in a fully developed body, making them pluripotent. Embryonic stem cells tend to be controversial, thus Cedar Stem Cell Institute will never use them.

In contrast, adult stem cells are multipotent because they can develop into various types of cells, but are tissue-specific and do not develop into cells outside of their originating tissue. For example, adult stem cells derived from skin cannot generate heart cells. There are several different types of adult stem cells that can be found throughout the human body, and two types are widely used today: bone marrow stem cells and skin stem cells.

Bone marrow stem cells are hematopoietic and give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. These blood-forming cells are used in treating blood diseases like leukemia and other blood disorders. Bone marrow is the spongy material found in the center of bones and is mainly derived from larger bones like the hip bone and shoulder blade. Once transplanted, the blood-forming stem cells start to rebuild the patient’s supply of blood cells.

It is very common to hear about a burn patient that has undergone a skin graft to replace dead skin. This procedure is in fact a type of stem cell transplant from the patient’s own body. Skin is very rich in stem cells as we lose so much skin in our normal day-to-day lives. Whether it be dry skin, a cut, or a mild burn, stem cells are quick to repair the damaged tissue. When skin is severely burnt, however, those stem cells are destroyed and must be replaced via a skin graft.

These remarkable cells are what Cedar Stem Cell Institute strives to research and learn more about. We believe that stem cells have a potentially transformational effect on the practice of medicine and aspire to be at the forefront regarding the treatment, research and education of this technology.

References: Stem Cells For Dummies Cheat Sheet by Lawrence S.B. Goldstein, Meg Schneider / A Closer Look at Stem Cells

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