Stem Cells, Their Biology and Applications

Dear Patrick,

I wanted to respond to all your queries on stem cells through this letter. First, you need to know what stem cells are. They are unspecialized cells that can differentiate and self regenerate. To differentiate is to develop into another cell type while self-regeneration refers to the process of producing other cells.

The biology of stem cells

The ideal stem cell is the zygote (a cell formed by the union of a male cell – sperm and female cell – ovum), which has the ability to differentiate into all cell types; scientists call this capability totipotency. As the cell develops into other cells types, such as the embryo, germ layers, and tissues, it gradually loses this ability.

Stem cells in adults do not differentiate as much as the earlier forms because they are already fully developed. This makes it difficult to isolate and use them for therapy. However, some stem cells are still present in adults to repair or replace damaged tissue (National Institute of Health, 2012).

The biology of embryonic stem cells makes them ideal for scientific research because of a number of properties. First, they can differentiate into a wide array of cells. They are also immortal; when placed in suitable cultures, embryonic cells can last for years. These cells can become a reliable source of undifferentiated cells for research or scientific use. Additionally, the genetic material in the cells often remains in the same chromosomal state (Wu et al., 2007).

The chromosome is the part of the cell that carries genetic materials. Embryonic stem cells are also ideal for scientific work because they exhibit important markers on their surface, thus enabling one to differentiate them from others. An example is an Oct-4 protein, which is a vital cell characteristic.

When used in the treatment of diseases, stem cells are quite useful because they can be easily manipulated. One can use gene transfer methods to transfer genes into the body. Additionally, these cells can easily move into host target tissues. Once they get into the tissue of the host, they can easily interact with it and thus become compatible (Gurther et al., 2007).

Applications of stem cells

Now that you have learned a little bit about the biology of stem cells, you may wonder what their uses are. Here, is a summary of the major applications of these types of cells. First, stem cells can be applied in genomic studies, which refer to the study of genes and their functions. Since genes control the human body’s ability to exist, then researchers can identify potential obstacles to the same. Additionally, stem cell research assists in the analysis of biological processes.

Here, scientists look into the fate of cells to know the progress or origin of diseases. For instance, analysts can study the origin of cancer by irradiating mice with strong rays and then injecting stem cells into the organisms. Such a procedure will enable them to know the biological processes involved in the development of certain diseases.

Stem cells may also be employed in the development of new drugs. Many biologists use embryonic cells from mice to discover fresh drugs that can cure very disturbing diseases. In certain instances, embryonic cells may be used for this purpose. Lastly, stems cells are useful in carrying out cell-based therapy. In such scenarios, the cells are isolated and differentiated into desired cells. These new cells are then placed in the bodies of patients to tackle their diseases.

The process of therapeutic cloning best embodies this perspective. Here, a persons’ DNA is placed into unfertilized eggs, which can then differentiate into specific tissues that are problematic to a patient. Thereafter, the patient’s faulty organs can be replaced by the cloned substance. However, ethical issues about cloning have impeded the use of this approach in humans. Bone marrow stem cells have been used therapeutically for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, leukemia, spinal cord injuries, and diseases of the heart (Sell, 2004).

Examples of diseases that have been tackled through stem cell therapy

Cardiovascular diseases are some of the most notorious causes of death in the world. Medical practitioners find it particularly troublesome to treat them because the heart is fully differentiated. Stem cells can assist with this problem by correcting some of the challenges associated with the heart. For instance, some stem cells can act as pacemakers thus solving the problem.

Diabetes is also another disease that can benefit from stem cell research. This treatment works by injecting patients with cultured islet cells, which control the production of insulin. Conventional methods of treating diabetes have too many limitations. For instance, pancreatic replacement may trigger allergic responses. Furthermore, availability of donor organs may also be a problem. Injection of insulin is difficult to control because it is susceptible to glucose fluctuations. Stem cell therapy is, therefore, quite promising (University of Utah, 2012).

Parkinson’s disease may also be treated through cells. It is neurological disease that stems from the body’s inability to produce dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone that transmits nerve signals thus controlling body movement. The treatment works by implanting stem cells into patients and thus generating new nerve cells which can produce dopamine. After that, the body can resume proper functioning (Lindvall & Bjorklund, 2004).

It is impossible to talk about all aspects of stem cell technology; however, I believe these are the main issues that you need to know. Stem cells have a lot of promise in disease treatment if scientists can surpass the ethical implications associated with them.

References

Gurther. G., Callaghan, M. & Longaker, M. (2007). Progress and potential for regenerative medicine. Annual Review of Medicine, 58(1), 299-312.

Lindvall, O. & Bjorklund, A. (2004). Cell therapy in Parkinson’s disease. Neurology Journal, 1(2), 382-393.

National Institute of Health (2012). Stem cell information. Web.

Sell, S. (2004). Stem cell handbook. NY: Routledge.

University of Utah (2012). Stem cells in use. Web.

Wu, D., Byd, A. & Wood, K. (2007). Embryonic stem cell transplantation: potential applicability in cell replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. Front Bioscience, 12(8), 452-435.