Vital Information Regarding the Uses of Stem Cells in Medical Science
There are different types of cells that constitute a human body and often some of these cells may be damaged or diseased, leading to complicated and even fatal ailments for those unfortunate patients. Now the medical science has undergone many improvements for the cure of these diseases and prolonged researches have proved that the use of stem cells is the best option for the treatments of many complicated physical problems. Though till now many common people have no basic idea about the stem cells or their uses, now awareness is fast spreading among the mass and people are intrigued to find out more information in this regard.
Basic definition of stem cells
The stem cells are those body cells that cannot be categorized under any specific cell type and thus, these cells can be turned into any variety of human cells for the successful replacement of the damaged cells of that body part. These unspecified cells are available in the bodies of all multi-cellular organisms of this world. However, the doctors and scientists prefer only to use the stem cells of the human bodies, for curing the complicated diseases of the mankind.
Main varieties of stem cells used for medical purposes
Broadly, the stem cells of the humans can be differentiated into the embryonic or baby stem cells and the adult stem cells, according to the age of the donator of these cells.
- Baby stem cells – The embryonic stem cells are also termed as cord blood cells that are available in the umbilical cord of a child, which connects him/her with the mother’s body during the pregnancy period. The baby stem cells are extracted from the innermost cells of blastocyst, which is the earliest form of the embryo at the initial stage of human pregnancy. These embryonic stem cells are further classified into endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm, as per the exact locations of these cells on the developing embryo.
- Adult stem cells – On the other hand, the adult stem cells are generally available in the bone marrow, blood and the fat cells of the adipose tissues, which are still transformable into other cell varieties. As bone marrows contained inside the femur bones and iliac crest part of the pelvic girdle are the birthplaces of blood cells, the stem cells drilled out from these bones are very useful in curing many diseases. The adipose tissues are available under the epidermis of the skin and the stem cells are derived with the help of liposuction procedure from the fat cells. The blood is another natural source of adult stem cells, where the donor’s blood is subjected to a mechanical process called Apheresis, for extracting out only the stem cells successfully.
Special characteristics of all types of stem cells
- Spontaneous multiplication – All varieties of stem cells hold the capability of dividing of their own into numerous new cells. Hence, only a handful of these cells can give rise to large number of the required cells in the diseased part of the body. This unique ability of proliferation is found to be more rapid in the embryonic stem cells than the adult ones. The baby stem cells can continue proliferating in the laboratory vessels for a long time, without being used for any specific purpose and this characteristic is termed as long-term self renewal, which is hardly found in the adult stem cells. However, the scientists are yet to discover the exact reasons of proliferation of these cells in the laboratory.
- Easy transformations – As these stem cells are the unclassified ones, these cells can gradually develop themselves into the required cell form as per the qualities of the other cells present in that particular part of the body. Hence, these unspecified cells can be transformed into the cardiac cells, muscular cells, neurons or blood cells, as per the requirements of the patients. However, these transformations comprise of many steps, some of which are still not discovered by the scientists. As of now, it is assumed that the genes or the DNA present in these stem cells can easily regulate the transformation process internally, while the neighboring specialized cells may send some physical or chemical signals that help in initiating the specialization process.
As the researches are still going on about these stem cells, the scientists are yet to explore more qualities of the stem cells which may help them in using these cells more effectively for the human use in the coming years.
Extraction of the baby stem cells by the medical scientists
The embryonic or baby stem cells are derived from the human embryos at the initial stage of their growth, which justify the name conferred to these cells. Apart from the cord blood cells derived from the umbilical cords of the newborns, these embryonic stem cells are also available from the developing embryos in the fertilization clinics, where the female eggs are artificially fertilized to form the test-tube babies. The parents of these test tube embryos are prior informed and then the scientists proceed for extracting the stem cells from the artificially developing embryos with the permission of the donating parents, as no harm is caused to the growing fetus in this procedure. However, the embryonic cells are not yet derived from the embryos growing in their mothers’ wombs.
After successful extraction, these cells are carefully cultured in the laboratories, in the presence of a culture medium liquid that actually serves as the food for these cells. Initially, this culturing and growth of the stem cells were practiced with the embryonic cells derived from the mice. However, the mouse cells could not be tested on the humans, due to the significant differences in the genetic structures of the human cells from that of the mice. Now it is established that only a few human embryonic cells can give rise to the millions of the required baby stem cells, when subjected to a series of complicated cycles as the vital parts of the culturing of these cells.
Till now, various kinds of laboratory tests are performed for detecting the special features of the embryonic cells. Initially, these cells were only inspected through powerful microscopes to see their unspecialized characteristics. Now more laboratory tests are evolved to know more about these cells, which will help the scientists in using them correctly in curing the medical patients. Different kinds of tests are still form the part of the extensive researches in this field, to discover more benefits of these embryonic stem cells.
Distinct interesting features seen in the baby stem cells
- Sources of origin – The baby stem cells are supposed to be derived from either the artificially developing embryos in the test-tubes or the cord blood available in the umbilical cords of the newborn babies. The discarded test-tube embryos that are not needed for ending the infertility of the patients may also be stored and used as the easy source of stem cells. Since the birth of test-tube babies does not happen too frequently, it becomes difficult to get sufficient stem cells for researches and medical treatments. On the other hand, the cord blood is widely available due to the huge numbers of babies born every day in several hospitals and medical centers.
- Self renewal capability – These baby stem cells are capable of making identical copies of themselves and thus, actively multiply into numerous similar cells, when stored in the laboratory without any use for some time. This unique characteristic is termed as self renewal and it helps the scientists to obtain huge amounts of stem cells for their medical researches and also for actual stem cell therapies.
- Pluripotency – The scientists find it very easy to differentiate these baby stem cells into different varieties, as per the requirements of the patients. This special feature is scientifically termed as pluripotency and it is retained perfectly by these cells, even after being stored for many days in the laboratories. Hence, the scientists can simply culture these stem cells to form the required types of cells, among which the demands for neurons, liver cells and the blood cells are most prominent for the cure of deadly ailments.
Benefits of the baby stem cells in medical researches
- The baby stem cells can be stored for more than a year in the laboratories for further proliferation, without any damaging changes in the physical or chemical structures of these cells. Hence, the scientists can make the best use of these cells for a long period, without worrying about getting fresh embryonic cells for their experiments.
- A single set of embryonic cells can give rise to multiple types of specialized body cells and due to this advantageous quality; these cells are termed as pluripotent or multipotent. Hence, a single set of multipotent cells can transform into various types of specialized cells, which can help in curing many ailments in different parts of the human body.
- These embryonic cells can be frozen to a certain temperature for transporting from one laboratory to the others, without causing any harm to the physical qualities of these cells. So the scientists can happily share these useful cells for the further researches to be done by their colleagues, without facing any real difficulty in transportation.
Points of comparisons between baby stem cells and adult stem cells
- Ability of differentiation – The embryonic stem cells are more pluripotent in nature and thus can be easily transformed into all varieties of human body cells. On the other hand, the adult stem cells can be transformed only into the cell type that is available in the body part from where these cells have originated, due to the limitation of the differentiating power of these matured cells.
- Easiness in lab culturing – Since the embryonic cells are extracted from the developing tissues, these young cells are easily cultured in the laboratories with the use of scientific procedures. On the contrary, the adult stem cells are quite matured and thus, it is very tough to extract these cells from the rest of the tissues, leading to very rare chance of culturing these cells.
- Easy availability for use – As huge quantities of stem cells are required for the effectiveness in stem cell therapies, the availability of the baby stem cells are much easier than the adult ones, as the embryonic stem cells multiply very fast and a large amount of cells can be obtained from only a few stem cells. Moreover, these young stem cells are storable for longer time, a trait that is not found in the adult stem cells.
- Chances of rejection – The adult stem cells may be extracted from the tissues of the concerned patient, for which these cells definitely match the diseased tissues that need to be replaced and there is very rare risk of physical rejection after the transplantation of these cells. However, since the embryonic cells are derived from the cord blood or embryos of unrelated families; there may be some chances of rejection from the neighboring body cells after the transplanting therapy; though there is no confirmation regarding this fact yet and the researches are still going on about the successful uses of the baby stem cells.
Process adopted for culturing the baby stem cells of human beings
Previously, the mouse and human embryonic cells were cultured in the similar way, with the addition of specially treated fibroblasts obtained from the body of the mice, along with the serum derived from the cattle. However, later it was proved that the growth of the mouse cells and human cells are quite different in the same culturing medium. Moreover, there could be the risk of transmitting the mouse virus to the human cells, if cultured with mouse skin cells. Hence, leukemia inhibitory factor was added to this medium, which was good enough for the mouse stem cells; still not sufficient to trigger the differentiation of the human embryonic cells.
Therefore, now a three dimensional culturing environment is created for the healthy growth of the human baby stem cells. These stem cells are placed under numbers of culturing procedures in separate plastic dishes for the most effective culture of these human cells. Each of these subculture cycles is termed as a ‘passage’. The accurate application of the culturing process can produce millions of stem cells from only a few baby stem cells in the laboratories. As this branch of science is continuously making progress, there are several changes introduced by the scientists for the better growth of these baby stem cells. This 3D culture has been proved to be better for making the stem cells more effective in proliferation and pluripotency, as well as helps these cells to last much longer in stored condition.
Purposes of various laboratory tests while detecting the baby stem cells
When the cells are taken in bulk from the artificially fertilized embryos or the cord blood, the stem cells need to be identified and separated from the rest of the cells in the laboratories. Apparently, though it may not seem to be an easy job; there are several laboratory based procedures for the identification of the baby stem cells.
- A powerful electronic microscope is used for viewing the stem cells and to watch their healthy growth while being cultured in the laboratories for many months, before actually putting them into medical uses. The chromosomes of these cells are closely inspected for detecting any change or damage that may occur in the course of extraction and culturing the stem cells.
- There are certain laboratory tests for finding the transcription factors in the freshly extracted baby stem cells, which may be responsible for the switching on the functions of the genes of these cells at the required time. This definite function is very important for the successful differentiation of the stem cells and a few transcription factors are also associated with the storage of these stem cells in undifferentiated condition for a long time. The special feature of self renewal is also maintained in the stem cells due to the action of some transcription factors.
- There are some advanced scientific techniques for establishing the presence of a few markers of the cell surfaces in the cultured baby stem cells. These chemical markers may be produced by the undifferentiated stem cells during several laboratory procedures.
- All the stem cells may or may not be able to grow or further cultured after being refrigerated or thawed for using in any kind of stem cell therapy. Hence, the scientists apply certain physical tests to check the present conditions of the stem cells after subjecting to alternative conditions.
- The embryonic stem cells are allowed to differentiate automatically into various kinds of cells in the culturing plates, to find out about the degree of the ability of pluripotency of these cells. The undifferentiated cells may be specially treated to form the cells of higher levels with three layers of germ cells.
- The human stem cells can be safely applied in the bodies of the mice, since the immunity power of a mouse is much weaker than a human being. Thus, the mouse can easily tolerate the entry of human cells in its body system and even adapt itself to the changes occurred due to the injection of these cells in its body. These undifferentiated stem cells automatically differentiate into various kinds of body cells within the body of the mouse, proving the differentiating capability of these cells.
Procedures of directing the baby stem cells for definite differentiation
When the stem cells are cultured in the laboratories, the fact that these cells can automatically differentiate into various types of human cells is considered as the sign of their good health. However, often it is necessary for the scientists and doctors to make the stem cells differentiate into certain specific types of cells, which can be used for curing a particular patient. So, certain scientific procedures need to be applied for directing the otherwise spontaneous differentiating power of the stem cells, for the formation of the required cell types.
- The scientists change the chemical composition of the medium to be used in the culture plates, where the baby stem cells are usually kept for culturing process. This change in the medium brings certain behavioral changes in these cells, which are required for their differentiation into the needed variety of body cells for the replacement.
- The surface of the culture dish may be changed by layering it with some special chemicals which will bring the required changes in the stem cells for differentiating into the required cell type, for the stem cell therapy in the damaged body part of the patient.
- The scientists also prefer the procedure of inserting certain special genes into the cultured stem cells, for turning them into the required variety of body cells that is needed for any patient’s treatment and the replacement of his damaged body cells.
After the basic differentiation of the stem cells, further scientific procedures are adopted to completely transform those cells into the functional types, as per the needs of the concerned doctors. Earlier, all these scientific tests were conducted with the stem cells taken from the mice and now these procedures are safely applied on the human stem cells.
Prominent benefits of the prolonged researches on baby stem cells
- Replacements of nerve cells – The neurons or the nerve cells of the human body are often damaged due to cerebral stroke, injury on the spinal cord or merely due to the degeneration of the cells at the old age of the patients. These partial or total damages of the neurons mostly result in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even partial or complete paralysis of the body. The only option discovered till date for curing these critical ailments is the stem cell therapy, by replacing the damaged neurons with the freshly produced nerved cells.
- Permanent cure of diabetes – The cells that produce the insulin for decreasing the sugar level in the blood may dysfunction due to any severe physical disorder in the body, leading to severe diabetes. The easiness of these scientific conditions inspires the scientists and doctors in the productions of fresh insulin cells for the replacement of the malfunctioning ones in the bodies of the diabetes patients, freeing them from this ailment for lifelong.
- Formations of new cardiac muscles – The cardiac muscles are usually damaged due to a massive heart attack or any other kind of deadly cardiac disease. These damaged heart muscles should be replaced immediately with the freshly differentiated cardiac cells to save the life of that patient, as the medicines are not effective enough for the fast repair of these damaged cardiac cells. The differentiated cardiac cells are injected into the damaged tissues of the heart, where these cells multiply very quickly to replace all the damaged cells and gradually, the entire cardiac tissues are freshly formed from these cells, making the heart healthy again.
- Treatment of many damaged organs – As the baby stem cells can be differentiated into several types of body cells, any other damaged organ of the human body can be freshly formed from the successful stem cell therapy. So now this form of medical treatment is revered with high respect and trust among the doctors and even the educated patients. However, the lungs, kidneys and the different parts of the digestive system are the other body parts that can be treated with stem cell therapy, if extensively damaged due to any disease or accident. Hence, the stem cells can save the life of the patient that could be otherwise threatened due to the damaged body parts.
- Manufacture of new medicines – The researches on the stem cells are also helpful in studying about the human diseases and their effective cure. Different types of new useful medicines are also widely manufactured now due to the extensive researches regarding the uses of stem cells on the human bodies. Moreover, the possibilities of the toxic side effects of the new drugs can also be checked with the help of these stem cells created in the laboratories.
- Screening of drugs in urine – The presence of illegal drugs in the body of a person can be tested by checking his urine sample. Now this screening of the drugs is also simpler due to the applications of the stem cells in the latest procedures that are more effective in detecting the traces of all kinds of illegal drugs in the urine.
- Effective cure of leukemia – The leukemia is a fatal disease where the red blood cells are rapidly damaged and the white blood cells increase in numbers. Hence, the patient needs frequent blood transfusion to maintain the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, which is a primary function of the red blood corpuscles. Now the stem cell therapy completely replaces all the blood corpuscles with new cells and thus, saves the patient from untimely death. All types of acute and chronic leukemia can be efficiently treated with this scientific method, irrespective of the age of the patients.
- Cure of many malignant disorders – The cancerous diseases of the lymph nodes can be deadly enough for the patients and can be treated effectively with the cultured stem cells. Numbers of lymph disorders, like Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are also treated with stem cell therapies. These diseases are also considered now as the types of blood cancers and the researchers have found out ways to save people with the help of differentiated blood cells that are inserted into the body of the patient. Several fatal disorders of the phagocytes are also treated with the application of stem cell therapy, which stop the destruction of the useful phagocyte cells that are responsible for killing the harmful bacteria and other germs entering the body. The breast cancer, renal cell carcinoma, plasma cell leukemia, osteopetrosis and bare lymphocyte syndrome are only a few names among the long list of malignancies that are curable with the stem cell therapies.
- Treatment of some inherited diseases – Different diseases are caused due to the deficiencies of various useful enzymes in the body, resulting in severe disorders or abnormalities in the patients. Most of these diseases are generally inherited from the parents or someone in the family history who was detected with those particular diseases. Earlier these disorders were considered as incurable by medications; now the stem cell therapies can completely replace all the diseased body cells with the freshly differentiated ones and cure the disorders, some of which may otherwise turn to be malignant. Hurler’s syndrome, Hunter’s syndrome and Wolman disease are only a few among the large numbers of inherited disorders, which can only be treated with the stem cells. Plasma cell disorder and Platelet abnormalities are also included in the category of inherited diseases that depend entirely on the stem cell therapies now.
Hence, the researches on stem cells bring the ray of hope in many patients diagnosed with critical ailments that are otherwise incurable by medications or surgeries. Usually, the bone marrow is replaced with the stem cells, in case of all the blood related disorders. All these therapies are now conducted with the baby stem cells, since the treatment procedures with the adult stem cells are still under clinical trials. Till now, several thousands of patients have been saved all over the world with the applications of the baby stem cells.
Progress in the researches involving the baby stem cells
Numerous scientists from many countries are now working on the applications of baby stem cells for the cure of many physical disorders. Though now more than 100 diseases have been cured with the stem cell therapies, extensive researches are still going on in this field for the discovery of more cost effective ways of stem cell treatments. It is assumed that many more years will be needed to make this branch of medical science popular among the common mass, by the provision of better safety and faster cure from the critical diseases in future. Much better chemotherapy medicines are also expected to be created with the help of these stem cell researches. The scientists are also trying to discover useful treatments for cerebral palsy and autism, with the use of the cord blood of those affected children. However, the patients should not avail the therapies that have not yet been approved for the safety, as these untested treatments may even turn fatal, as found in some cases occurring in the countries of the eastern part of the world.
Effectiveness of the cord blood over other stem cells
The cord blood is more easily available from the umbilical cords of the newborns and thus, the scientists depend more on the stem cells derived from this fresh cord blood. Earlier, the cord blood cells were used for the treatment of the siblings and other close family members of the newborns. However, now plenty of diseases are found to be curable with the help of these cord blood cells of even the unrelated babies. The cord blood cells are simply inserted into the damaged body organ and let the cells differentiate and multiply there to replace the problematic tissues completely. The effective functions of these cord blood cells recover the lost immunity power and provide new life to the patients. Plenty of children have been cured from thalassemia and sickle cell disease with the application of stem cells derived from the cord blood. The immature cells present in the cord blood is found to be more useful as the stem cells than the adult stem cells, as these cells are more easily cultured and differentiated according to the requirements of the scientists and doctors. The adult stem cells are available in limited number of places in the human body and the specified cells of those body organs may not be of use in other parts of the body; while the stem cells extracted from the cord blood can be inserted anywhere of the body for stem cell therapy or the replacements of the damaged body cells.
Vital necessity of the cord blood banking procedures
The fresh stem cells extracted from the cord blood are more effective in nature than the ones that are left unpreserved for a long time. Hence, it is absolutely essential to store the cord blood by using the required scientific procedures and this storage is termed as cord blood banking. This practice helps to store the cord blood for future use, even after many years. The baby, whose cord blood is taken out from the umbilical cord, can be benefitted too in future, if detected with any complicated and otherwise incurable disease. He may also use this cord blood for curing any person who has blood relations with him and thus, there is no chance of genetic mismatch. When a person uses his/her own cord blood for getting cured from any deadly disease, it is termed as autologous use. However, the use of the cord blood for a sibling or any other close family member is scientifically termed as allogenic use. The researches have proved that the use of the cord blood of a relative is more effective than that of a person who has got no blood relation with the patient. Hence, now many parents prefer to pay a certain rental price for the preservation of the cord blood of their children in the form of cord blood banking, for the future uses of their babies or other family members. However, some people also like to donate the cord blood of their babies for the research purposes, which may benefit several other people of the world.
Awareness to be spread regarding the cord blood banking
Many parents still have the idea that the collection of the cord blood can harm their babies and the new mothers. These new parents should be assured that the cord blood is collected only after the umbilical cord is totally separated from the body of the baby and the mother. Hence, there is no chance of spreading any kind of infection in the body of the baby, while collecting the cord blood. However, only well trained medical professionals should collect this cord blood from the umbilical cord and carefully clamp both end of the cord to prevent any loss of this precious blood. However, the care should be taken to collect this blood immediately after the childbirth; else the blood cells may not be of any use for using as the stem cells in future. Moreover, the blood present inside the umbilical cord is supposed to be of no use to the baby or the mother, unless preserved in the form of cord blood.
Is there any risk of using baby stem cells in the treatments?
The researches on the mice have shown that the induction of undifferentiated baby stem cells cause the formation of harmless tumors that are named as Teratomas. These tumors are formed due to the assembly of many kinds of body cells, which are created due to the multiplications of the automatically differentiated and semi-differentiated stem cells. Hence, many scientists prefer the uses of adult stem cells in the humans, to avoid all kinds of future hassles faced by the patients, as well as by their doctors.
Still, the baby stem cells are in huge demand among the scientists of the modern world, due to the useful effects of these cells in regenerating the damaged body cells in many cases. More than 80 diseases are reportedly cured with the use of the cord blood in various progressive countries. Now since the practice of cord blood banking is proved to be effective not only for the relatives of the newborn babies; the parents or the grownup children can make a lot of money by selling their stored cord blood for the benefits of other seriously ill patients. It is hoped that in near future, all the complicated genetic diseases will be completely cured with the application of stem cell therapy, due to the further discoveries of the scientists, who are working tirelessly on this subject now.