Stem Cell Research in Scottsdale, AZ
What Is a Stem Cell?
A stem cell is a very special type of cell found in humans and animals. The two qualities that separate stem cells from other cells are that stem cells can do the following:
- Divide at any time in a living human or animal, even after an extended period of not dividing
- Become other types of cells under specific circumstances
In other words, stem cells continue to be renewed in the body for the lifetime of the person or animal. When the stem cell divides, it may remain a stem cell or become a different type of cell, such as those found in the blood, brain, and muscles. The timeline for stem cell division depends on where the stem cells are in the body. Some stem cells continuously divide, such as those found in bone marrow, while others only divide under certain circumstances, such as stem cells in the heart.
Stem cells are divided into two classifications—embryonic and “adult.” Embryonic stem cells form as fertilized eggs divide and may develop into any type of cell in the body. When describing stem cells, “adult” refers to where the cells are found in the body, such as the following:
As the tissue cells die, adult stem cells start to divide and become specialized cells, thus promoting a natural reparative process. The challenge in adult stem cell research lies in the growth and differentiation of adult stem cells.
Why Are Stem Cells Important from a Medical Perspective?
The unique characteristics of stem cells to repair the body make the cells a valuable resource for the medical community. The motivation behind research is the ability of stem cells to change into a multitude of other types of cells. Scientists are mostly interested in understanding the mechanisms of stem cells and how to bring about new treatments for certain medical conditions.
Conditions at the center of stem cell research are as follows:
- Heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Duchene’s muscular dystrophy
- Spinal cord injuries
- Hearing loss
- Vision problems
Treating these conditions with stem cells maximizes the capacity of the cells to repair the body. As research continues, stem cells may also be used for treating injuries and damaged tissue.
How Are Stem Cells Being Used Today?
Stem cell research is the genesis of new treatments for some of the most life-threatening conditions, such as certain tumors, lymphoma, some blood disorders, and leukemia. The person’s own stem cells or those of a donor may be used in the treatments.
Stem cell treatments are founded upon three types of transplants, each using a distinct type of stem cell:
- Adult bone marrow stem cells
- Adult peripheral blood stem cells, or PBSCs
- Adult peripheral blood stem cells, or PBSCs
Adult Stem Cell Transplant: Bone Marrow Stem Cells
Bone marrow is the longest-standing source of stem cells for medical treatments. Known as hematopoietic stem cells, the cells are an integral part of blood cell development in the body. As such, transplanting adult bone marrow stem cells is an effective treatment for multiple myeloma, certain types of lymphoma, specific hereditary blood disorders, and leukemia. The stem cells work by facilitating the production of blood cells, or by developing into platelets, red blood cells, or white blood cells. The procedure for bone marrow stem cell transplants involves radiation or chemotherapy to destroy diseased bone marrow and then transplanting healthy bone marrow stem cells.
Adult Stem Cell Transplant: Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSCs)
Although less plentiful than bone marrow stem cells, peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs) can be extracted for medical treatments. One of the benefits of using PBSCs versus bone marrow stem cells is the ease with which the cells can be extracted. Doing a blood draw on a patient is far less complicated and extensive than extracting bone marrow. The challenge with using PBSCs is that so few of the cells are found in the blood, so gathering an adequate volume of stem cells is very difficult.
Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cell Transplant
Like bone marrow, the umbilical cord of a newborn contains hematopoietic stem cells that are responsible for producing blood cells in the body. Stem cells from the umbilical cord can be used to treat the same conditions as cells from bone marrow and peripheral blood. With the written permission of the parents, stem cells are extracted from the umbilical cord shortly after delivery. Umbilical cords, including the valuable stem cells in the cord blood, are typically discarded. Extracting the cells first provides a supply of stem cells that would otherwise go to waste.
Where Do Scientists Get Stem Cells?
Much of the debate surrounding stem cells is based on the source of the cells. Adult stem cells are extracted from tissues or blood of an animal or human. Embryonic stem cells are extracted from multi-cellular embryos that develop as fertilized eggs divide. The embryos that are used for embryonic stem cells are cultured in laboratory conditions.
Stem Cell Research on Treating Various Illnesses
Stem cell research has brought new treatments to the field of medicine. Many of the conditions now treated with stem cells were once considered untreatable or required patients to endure significant symptoms that reduced quality of life. Stem cell treatments give patients and medical professionals new hope for improved health outcomes.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The FDA has approved research into the efficacy of embryonic stem cell treatments for spinal cord injuries. The intent of the study is to determine the safety of treatment and potentially demonstrate how embryonic stem cells help with regaining use of lower extremities.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by the loss of pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Research into the benefits of embryonic stem cells has found that, when introduced into mice, the stem cells can be induced to become cells that produce insulin and improve regulation of blood sugar levels.
As a leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease is a top priority for medical researchers. Studies are revealing that stem cells have the capacity to regenerate heart muscle tissue. The outcomes of the research benefit those living with heart disease and other conditions that damage the heart muscle.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition of the neurological system. Embryonic stem cell research demonstrates that the cells can be used to generate neurons that produce dopamine. The increased levels of dopamine are known to control the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by damage to and destruction of brain cells. Although the efficacy of stem cell treatment for Alzheimer’s remains somewhat unclear, the potential gives many in the medical community a renewed optimism for treating the disease.
Lou Gehrig’s disease
Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, is a medical condition that results from damage to specific neurons in the spinal cord and brain. People living with ALS are typically given three to five years to live. The benefits of stem cell treatment offer a new avenue of treatment for those living with ALS.
Early studies of embryonic stem cell treatments for lung disease and trauma hold promise. Lung tissue cells have been generated in mice using stem cells.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that occurs in the joints. Stem cell treatments for the condition may promote regeneration of cartilage to reduce the effects of the condition.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a life-threatening blood disorder. Patients living with the condition may benefit from transfusions of blood rich in stem cells.
Scientists are addressing the shortage of donor organs through stem cell research. Stem cells may potentially be used to produce organs under laboratory conditions, thus increasing the availability of donor organs.