Stem Cells: Scientific Facts and Fiction

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There is vast interest in stem cells from biologists and clinicians who see the potential for regenerative medicine and future treatments for chronic diseases like Parkinson's, diabetes, and spinal cord lesions, based on the use of stem cells; and from entrepreneurs in biotechnology who expect new commercial applications ranging from drug discovery to transplantation therapies. Biology of the cell 2. Embryonic development 3. Of mice and men: History of stem cells 4. What are stem cells? Origin of stem cells 6. Types of stem cells 7.

Cloning: History and current applications 8. Clinical applications of stem cells 9. Cancer stem cells Applications for drugs and toxicity screening Venturing in stem cells law and intellectual property Future prospects. See All Customer Reviews.


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Shop Textbooks. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD In some tissues, stem cells play an essential role in regeneration, as they can divide easily to replace dead cells. Scientists believe that knowing how stem cells work may lead to possible treatments for conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. For instance, if someone's heart contains damaged tissue, doctors might be able to stimulate healthy tissue to grow by transplanting laboratory-grown stem cells into the person's heart.

This could cause the heart tissue to renew itself. Researchers on a small-scale study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Translational Research tested this method. The results showed a 40 percent reduction of the size of scarred heart tissue caused by heart attacks when doctors transplanted stem cells to the damaged area. However, this small study involved only 11 participants.

This makes it difficult to tell whether the improvement in heart function resulted from the transplantation of stem cells or whether it was due to something else.


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  • For example, all of the transplants took place while the individuals were undergoing heart bypass surgery, so it is possible that the improvement in heart function was due to the bypass rather than the stem cell treatment. To investigate further, the researchers plan to do another study. This study will include a control group of people with heart failure who undergo bypass surgery but who do not receive the stem cell treatment.

    Another investigation, published in Nature Communications in , has suggested that stem cell therapies could be the basis of personalized diabetes treatment. In mice and laboratory-grown cultures, researchers successfully produced insulin-secreting cells from stem cells derived from the skin of people with type 1 diabetes.

    Jeffrey R. Millman, assistant professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine and first author, says :.

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    Millman hopes that these stem cell-derived beta cells could be ready for research in humans within 3 to 5 years. The type of stem cells that scientists commonly use for this purpose are called induced pluripotent stem cells.


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    • These are cells that have already undergone differentiation, but which scientists have genetically "reprogrammed" using viruses, so they can divide and become any cell. In this way, they act like undifferentiated stem cells. Scientists can grow differentiated cells from these pluripotent stem cells to resemble, for instance, cancer cells. Creating these cells means that scientists can use them to test anti-cancer drugs. Researchers are already making a wide variety of cancer cells using this method. However, because they cannot yet create cells that mimic cancer cells in a controlled way, it is not always possible to replicate the results precisely.

      They offer stem cell-based therapies for disorders ranging from sports injuries to cancer. Very few stem cell treatments have even reached the earliest phase of a clinical trial.

      Scientific Facts and Fiction

      Scientists are carrying out most of the current research in mice or a petri dish. Despite this, the U. Food and Drug Administration FDA allow clinics to inject people with their own stem cells, as long as the cells are intended to perform only their normal function, according to Cell Stem Cell. Scientists can harvest stem cells in different ways. Embryonic stem cells come from an embryo that is just a few days old. Scientists can extract adult stem cells from different types of tissue, including the brain, bone marrow , blood vessels, skeletal muscle, skin, teeth, the gut, the liver, among others.

      Amniotic fluid contains stem cells. Many women opt for an amniocentesis test that checks for congenital disabilities before the child is born. If the doctor keeps the fluid, they could use it in the future to treat other conditions either during gestation or after birth. Induced pluripotent stem cells iPS cells are cells that scientists can reprogram to act as stem cells, for use in regenerative medicine. After collecting the stem cells, scientists usually store them in liquid nitrogen for future use.

      This is because when the therapeutic use of stem cells first came to the public's attention in the late s, scientists were deriving human stem cells from embryos. Many people disagree with using human embryonic cells for medical research because extracting the stem means destroying the embryo. This creates complex issues , as people have different beliefs about what constitutes the start of human life.

      For some people, life starts when a baby is born, or when an embryo develops into a fetus. Others believe that human life begins at conception, so an embryo has the same moral status and rights as a human adult or child. President George W. Bush had strong, pro-life religious views, and he banned funding for human stem cell research in However, President Obama's administration allowed for a partial rolling back of these research restrictions.

      However, by , scientists had already started using pluripotent stem cells. Scientists do not derive these stem cells from embryonic stem cells. As a result, this technique does not have the same ethical concerns.

      Stem Cells: Scientific Facts and Fiction / Edition 2

      With this and other recent advances in stem cell technology, attitudes toward stem cell research are slowly beginning to change. Stem cell research is helping scientists to understand how an organism develops from a single cell, and how healthy cells come to replace defective cells in people and animals. Many severe medical conditions that occur in humans, such as cancer and congenital disabilities, happen because cells divide abnormally. A better understanding of stem cells can provide insight into how these diseases arise and possible treatment options.

      In June , two researchers took second prize in the materials category of the United Kingdom's Royal Society of Chemistry's emerging technology competition for creating a synthetic biomaterial that stimulates stem cells native to a person's own teeth. The researchers believe that this material will replace fillings, as the stem cells would prompt the damaged teeth to heal themselves. Although much more research is necessary before stem cell therapies can become part of regular medical practice, the science around stem cells is developing all the time.

      In almost every therapy area, doctors hope that stem cell technology will revolutionize therapeutic norms and introduce at least a new standard of personalized treatment, and maybe even self-healing bodies. Find out more here about stem cells, where they come from, and their possible uses. Article last updated by Yvette Brazier on Mon 18 February Visit our Stem Cell Research category page for the latest news on this subject, or sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest updates on Stem Cell Research.

      All references are available in the References tab. Anastasiadis, K.

      Stem cells: Therapy, controversy, and research

      Implantation of a novel allogenic mesenchymal precursor cell type in patients with ischemic cardiomyopathy undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting: An open label phase IIa trial [Abstract]. Dryden, J. Stem cells from diabetic patients coaxed to become insulin-secreting cells.

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      Embryonic stem cells: Where do they come from and what can they do? Hanna, J. Preservation of stem cells. Kolata, G. Stem cell therapies are still mostly theory, yet clinics are flourishing. Lo, B.

      Stem Cells

      Ethical issues in stem cell research. McDonald, C. The end of root canals? Millman, J. Stem cell basics I. Turner, L. Selling stem cells direct in the USA: Assessing the direct-to-consumer industry.