The body has many different types of cells, over 200 of them, and each type has a special function. There are skin, bone, blood, kidney, heart, and many other cells. However, your body also includes some very special and unique cells called stem cells.
Stem cells can become many other types of cells and they can replicate themselves very quickly. They play an important part in the body's healing process and have been used in the treatment of many conditions. Cell experts have discovered how to isolate these cells and start using them for several reasons.
The cells of the body do not begin forming and knowing what function it would be used for they developed. For example, a bone cell did not know it would be a bone cell, instead, it started out as a blank slate and can be found during gestation, the time the baby is in the mother's womb. During that time those 'blank cells' are called embryonic stem cells. Those cells have the potential to become one of the other 200 types of cells in the body.
These stem cells were first discovered and isolated in 1998 and since that time, there has been some controversy around acquiring embryonic stem cells. However, recently the acquisition of stem cells can be found in the umbilical cord tissue and are called adult stem cells because they will stay with a person for life. However, the adult stem cells are limited in the types of cells they can become compared to embryonic stem cells which can become any cell of the body.
Adult stem cells can become those found in the nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more, and are called mesenchymal stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells show promise in treating strokes, heart disease, diabetes, autism, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer's disease.
The second kind of stem cells called hematopoietic stem cells can become any of the different types of blood cells found in the body and are a part of the immune system. Today, the use of hematopoietic stem cells, which can be found in the blood that remains in the vein of the umbilical cord and placenta after birth, is a proven treatment of more than 80 diseases.
To summarize, the body has certain types of stem cells that become a variety of different cells, but there is one more thing that makes the stem cells special and that is how they replicate or duplicate themselves.
Typical cell division is one way a cell replicates within a cell membrane before dividing into two identical cells which are needed for regeneration. For example, if a person has a cut, the skin will heal because of cell division of skin cells. Basically, new cells make the skin.
The other way the body creates more cells is through its stem cells undergoing what is called asymmetric division. They are forming not one but two daughter cells: one cell often an exact replica of itself, a new stem cell with a relatively clean slate, and another stem cell that is ready to turn into a specific type of cell. This trait is known as self-renewal and allows stem cells to reproduce rapidly.
Through these two types of cell division, the body is always producing more cells. In fact, much of the body is in a state of constant renewal because many cells can live for only certain periods of time. The lifespan of a cell in the stomach lining is about two days. Red blood cells, about four months. Nerve and brain cells are supposed to live forever and rarely regenerate and take a long time if they do.
Stem cells are often removed from cord blood and bone marrow. Different cells have different life cycles, and many are constantly regenerating, but when damage occurs, and the body needs to come up with a new supply of cells to heal itself, it relies on the stem cell's ability to quickly create more cells to repair the wound. Here is where the potential for the introduction of new stem cells to enhance or be the driving factor in the healing process.
This and all other stem cell therapies since involve introducing new stem cells into the area to encourage the healing process. Often, the stem cell will create a type of cell simply because it is near other cells of the same type. Unfortunately, these stem cell therapies are only possible with people related to each other.
Scientists first found ways to use stem cells in bone marrow, and following this discovery, the first stem cell transplant was performed in 1956 via bone marrow between identical twins. It resulted in the complete remission of the one twin's leukemia, basically, the twin no longer suffered from the disease.
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