Stem cells are a special class of cells found in all living organisms. These cells have the ability to infinitely duplicate themselves and even replicate other types of cells like brain cells, skin cells, bone cells, and more. In humans, these cells can be found all throughout your body where they remain in a dormant state – until they’re needed by your body.
One example of where stem cells “activate” themselves and begin to replicate is when you suffer a minor injury like a cut or scrape. The stem cells in your body will actually begin to multiply and form skin cells, which eventually lead to healing of the injury.
It’s an incredible process and it’s thanks to stem cells that we’re able to recover from both minor and major injuries.
Aging and Stem Cell Loss
Younger individuals are often capable of recovering from injuries much quicker than older people. For example, when a young child falls and suffers a scrape, it often heals within a matter of days. On the other hand, a cut or scrape in an elderly person may take weeks to heal.
The reason for this is that as we age, our body’s stem cell supply begins to diminish and weaken. As a result, it becomes harder for injuries to heal. In fact, one of the proposed theories for aging is known as the Stem Cell Theory for Aging. The theory goes on to state that the aging process is caused by weakened stem cells.
How We Can Use Stem Cells
When stem cells are injected into an injury, studies have shown a certain level of biological activity that indicates the injected cells can adapt to the location they were injected in. What this means is that we can manipulate the repair process by placing healthy stem cells into a diseased joint, organ, or almost any other form of bodily tissue.
But Where Can We Get These Cells?
In short, there are many different types of stem cells that can be sourced from different things. Embryonic stem cells, the type that have caused the most controversy, are from human embryos created during in vitro fertilization.
To be clear, these human embryos are created in a laboratory. In a traditional sense, a human embryo can be created through in vitro fertilization with an egg and sperm. However, there are other methods that also can be used to create a human embryo in a laboratory.
While embryonic stem cells are the most potent form of stem cell, they continue to remain the most controversial. The reason for this is that the human embryo is destroyed when the stem cells are harvested. For some people, this is an ethical concern. The question often asked is if it’s acceptable to destroy a living human embryo to save the life of another.
As an alternative, stem cells can also be derived from animals or created artificially in a laboratory. In addition, stem cells can be sourced from another area of your own body. While not as potent as embryonic stem cells, they can still provide a significant therapeutic punch when it comes to healing external and internal injuries.
Common Therapeutic Uses for Stem Cells
While the research into stem cells has largely been affected by ethical concerns, new ways to obtain these cells have opened the doors to new research.
The research is still relatively new and ongoing but the results so far are extremely promising.
For example, stem cells have been investigated in numerous diseases and have also shown to be therapeutic in the treatment of certain conditions. In one study, patients with painful knee joints experienced significant improvement after only 6 months – a very short time period.
While there is still a lot more we need to learn about stem cells, one thing is clear – they can offer hope to those suffering from painful conditions.