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Stem Cells: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

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Stem Cells: What are they and why are they important? One of the points of Cell theory says that all known living things are made up of cells; although, structure of each cell is very similar, the function could be completely different. But one of the most important roles, being the basis and alternate resource, carry out Stem Cells. Since there are more than 200 different cell types in our body which all have their own functions and purposes, we can separate stem cells on 2 types.

The one which appears in us from the earliest stage of our life is called embryonic stem cell. These are the cells in the early embryo that give rise to all of the various structures of the mammalian fetus (Gerald Karp 2013). Embryonic stem cells are considered pluripotent; though, on the earliest stages they are totipotent because the first few of their cell divisions they give rise to extra-embryonic cells. Embryonic stem cells can differentiate into every type of cell in the body, which makes them indispensable to treat diseases (Gerald Karp 2013).

Other type of stem cell is called Adult stem cell. This type of cell is capable of self-renewal, so they produce more cells like themselves and are multipotent, that means that they are capable or differentiating into two or more mature cell types (heart muscles, red blood cells, skin, neurons) (Gerald Karp 2013). These cells could be found in mammal’s tissues that need frequent cell replacement, such as the skin, the inner of the intestine, and the blood system (William K. Purves et al. 2004). Some organs like brains doesn’t have ability to regenerate old cells, but it contains stem cells that can generate new neurons and glial cells (Gerald Karp 2013). Adult stem cells are one of the best ways for cell replacement therapies because they are autologous, they can be taken from the same patient in which they are used (Gerald Karp 2013). So, there are many ways how we can use stem cells to treat people, but some of them are highly debatable. If we talk about the generation of human Embryonic stem cells it leads to the loss of early human embryos. This lack of knowledge confronts us with the ethical issue of whether it is acceptable to sacrifice human life to treat other human life (Thomas Heinemann and Ludger Honnefelder 2002).

The usage of Embryonic stem cells is also finite by the difficulties in getting large number of the cells without including spontaneous differentiation, and the problem in controlling differentiation of the cell (Matikainen). Although, there are some organs like placenta where people could obtain Embryonic stem cells without damaging early human embryos. On the Figure 1 we can observe how Embryonic Cell Therapy is realized. The first stage is where the sperm travels to the oocyte, producing a fertilized egg. This process is the starting point of creating stem cells. After the egg starts to divide multiple times and initially specializes, it becomes a blastocyst. The blastocyst is the phase of embryonic development prior to implantation in the uterine wall, which happens four to five days after fertilization. The unspecialized cells from embryonic stem cell will be taken out and re-programmed in vitro to fulfill the needs of the patient. On the last stage these cells are transferred into the patient (Junying Yu and James A. Thomson). The Embryonic stem cells which are originated in such experiments are triploid; that is, they have three copies of each chromosome-one from oocyte and two from the donor nucleus (Gerald Karp 2013).

Another method of therapy is realized by Adult stem cells. Scientists have reported that these cells occur in many tissues of our body and that they may differentiate in the specialized cell type of the tissue where they would be transplanted6. In the case of Adult stem cells transplants, the patients should go through the stem cell collection, but before they receive high-dose chemotherapy and their cells become frozen and are kept in reserve until needed. After an individual gets high-dose chemotherapy their diseased cells are destroyed, and the stored cells are transplanted into the patient’s bloodstream. All in all, stem cells could be considered as one of the most valuable resource in our body. People have been studying them more than one century already, but still not everything is known about them; despite this, we learned how to use them to treat hundreds of different diseases and make people’s lives better.

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