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Stem cells: What they are and what they do

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The Ethics of Human-Animal Stem Cell Research

These stem cells come from developed organs and tissues in the body. For example, hematopoietic stem cells are a type of adult stem cell found in bone marrow. They make new red blood cells, white blood cells, and other types of blood cells. Doctors have been performing stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, for decades using hematopoietic stem cells in order to treat certain types of cancer.

Scientists have recently discovered how to turn adult stem cells into pluripotent stem cells. These new types of cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells iPSCs. They can differentiate into all types of specialized cells in the body. This means they can potentially produce new cells for any organ or tissue. To create iPSCs, scientists genetically reprogram the adult stem cells so they behave like embryonic stem cells. This may make them more useful in understanding how diseases develop.

This will help prevent the immune system from rejecting an organ transplant. Research is underway to find ways to produce iPSCs safely. Cord blood stem cells are harvested from the umbilical cord after childbirth. They can be frozen in cell banks for use in the future. These cells have been successfully used to treat children with blood cancers, such as leukemia, and certain genetic blood disorders.

Stem cells have also been found in amniotic fluid. However, more research is needed to help understand the potential uses of amniotic fluid stem cells. However, in recent years, there has been controversy surrounding the way human embryonic stem cells are obtained. During the process of harvesting embryotic stem cells, the embryo is destroyed.

This raises ethical concerns for people who believe that the destruction of a fertilized embryo is morally wrong. Opponents believe that an embryo is a living human being.

They argue that the embryo should have the same rights as every other human and that these rights should be protected. Supporters of stem cell research, on the other hand, believe that the embryos are not yet humans. They note that researchers receive consent from the donor couple whose eggs and sperm were used to create the embryo.

Supporters also argue that the fertilized eggs created during in-vitro fertilization would be discarded anyway, so they might be put to better use for scientific research.

With the breakthrough discovery of iPSCs, there may be less of a need for human embryos in research. This may help ease the concerns of those who are against using embryos for medical research.

However, if iPSCs have the potential to develop into a human embryo, researchers could theoretically create a clone of the donor. This presents another ethical issue to take into consideration. Many countries already have legislation in place that effectively bans human cloning. In the United States, federal policy regarding stem cell research has evolved over time as different presidents have taken office.

Rather, regulations have placed restrictions on public funding and use. However, certain states have placed bans on the creation or destruction of human embryos for medical research. In August , former President George W. Bush approved a law that would provide federal funding for limited research on embryonic stem cells.

However, such research had to fit the following criteria:. The order removed the restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research. The NIH then published guidelines to establish the policy under which it would fund research. The guidelines were written to help make sure that all NIH-funded research on human stem cells is morally responsible and scientifically relevant.

Stem cell research is ongoing at universities, research institutions, and hospitals around the world. Researchers are currently focusing on finding ways to control how stem cells turn into other types of cells. A primary goal of research on embryonic stem cells is to learn how undifferentiated stem cells turn into differentiated stem cells that form specific tissues and organs.

Researchers are also interested in figuring out how to control this process of differentiation. Over the years, scientists have developed methods to manipulate the stem cell process to create a particular cell type.

This process is called directed differentiation. A recent study also discovered the first steps in how stem cells transform into brain cells and other types of cells. More research on this topic is ongoing. If researchers can find a reliable way to direct the differentiation of embryonic stem cells, they may be able to use the cells to treat certain diseases. For example, by directing the embryonic stem cells to turn into insulin-producing cells, they may be able to transplant the cells into people with type 1 diabetes.

Examples of such projects include:. Researchers are also using differentiated stem cells to test the safety and effectiveness of new medications. Testing drugs on human stem cells eliminates the need to test them on animals.

Stem cell research has the potential to have a significant impact on human health. Before using new drugs in people, some types of stem cells are useful to test the safety and quality of investigational drugs. This type of testing will most likely first have a direct impact on drug development for cardiac toxicity testing. New areas of study include the effectiveness of using human stem cells that have been programmed into tissue-specific cells to test new drugs.

For testing of new drugs to be accurate, the cells must be programmed to acquire properties of the type of cells to be tested. Techniques to program cells into specific cells continue to be studied. For instance, nerve cells could be generated to test a new drug for a nerve disease.

Tests could show whether the new drug had any effect on the cells and whether the cells were harmed. Stem cells are the body's raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells.

These daughter cells either become new stem cells self-renewal or become specialized cells differentiation with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or bone. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types. These stem cells come from embryos that are three to five days old.

At this stage, an embryo is called a blastocyst and has about cells. These are pluripotent ploo-RIP-uh-tunt stem cells, meaning they can divide into more stem cells or can become any type of cell in the body. This versatility allows embryonic stem cells to be used to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs, although their use in people has been to date limited to eye-related disorders such as macular degeneration. These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat.

Compared with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability to give rise to various cells of the body. Until recently, researchers thought adult stem cells could create only similar types of cells. For instance, researchers thought that stem cells residing in the bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells. However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be able to create unrelated types of cells. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create bone or heart muscle cells.

This research has led to early-stage clinical trials to test usefulness and safety in people. For example, adult stem cells are currently being tested in people with neurological or heart disease. This new technique may allow researchers to use these reprogrammed cells instead of embryonic stem cells and prevent immune system rejection of the new stem cells.

However, scientists don't yet know if altering adult cells will cause adverse effects in humans. Researchers have been able to take regular connective tissue cells and reprogram them to become functional heart cells. In studies, animals with heart failure that were injected with new heart cells experienced improved heart function and survival time. Researchers have discovered stem cells in amniotic fluid in addition to umbilical cord blood stem cells. These stem cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells.

Amniotic fluid fills the sac that surrounds and protects a developing fetus in the uterus. Researchers have identified stem cells in samples of amniotic fluid drawn from pregnant women during a procedure called amniocentesis, a test conducted to test for abnormalities.

Embryonic stem cells are obtained from early-stage embryos — a group of cells that forms when a woman's egg is fertilized with a man's sperm in an in vitro fertilization clinic. Because human embryonic stem cells are extracted from human embryos, several questions and issues have been raised about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. The National Institutes of Health created guidelines for human stem cell research in Guidelines included defining embryonic stem cells and how they may be used in research and donation guidelines for embryonic stem cells.

Also, guidelines stated embryonic stem cells may only be used from embryos created by in vitro fertilization when the embryo is no longer needed. The embryos being used in embryonic stem cell research come from eggs that were fertilized at in vitro fertilization clinics but never implanted in a woman's uterus. The stem cells are donated with informed consent from donors. The stem cells can live and grow in special solutions in test tubes or petri dishes in laboratories.

Although research into adult stem cells is promising, adult stem cells may not be as versatile and durable as are embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells may not be able to be manipulated to produce all cell types, which limits how adult stem cells can be used to treat diseases. Adult stem cells also are more likely to contain abnormalities due to environmental hazards, such as toxins, or from errors acquired by the cells during replication.

However, researchers have found that adult stem cells are more adaptable than was initially suspected. A stem cell line is a group of cells that all descend from a single original stem cell and is grown in a lab. Cells in a stem cell line keep growing but don't differentiate into specialized cells.

Ideally, they remain free of genetic defects and continue to create more stem cells. Clusters of cells can be taken from a stem cell line and frozen for storage or shared with other researchers. Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, promotes the reparative response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives.

It is the next chapter of organ transplantation and uses cells instead of donor organs, which are limited in supply. Researchers grow stem cells in a lab. These stem cells are manipulated to specialize into specific types of cells, such as heart muscle cells, blood cells or nerve cells. The specialized cells can then be implanted into a person. For example, if the person has heart disease, the cells could be injected into the heart muscle.

The healthy transplanted heart cells could then contribute to repairing defective heart muscle. Researchers have already shown that adult bone marrow cells guided to become heart-like cells can repair heart tissue in people, and more research is ongoing. Yes, doctors have performed stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants. In stem cell transplants, stem cells replace cells damaged by chemotherapy or disease or as a way for the donor's immune system to fight some types of cancer and blood-related diseases, such as leukemia.

These transplants use adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood. Researchers are testing adult stem cells to treat other conditions, including a number of degenerative diseases such as heart failure.

To be useful in people, researchers must be certain that stem cells will differentiate into the specific cell types desired. Researchers have discovered ways to direct stem cells to become specific types of cells, such as directing embryonic stem cells to become heart cells.

Research is ongoing in this area. Embryonic stem cells also could grow irregularly or specialize in different cell types spontaneously. Researchers study how to control the growth and differentiation of embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells also might trigger an immune response in which the recipient's body attacks the stem cells as foreign invaders, or simply fail to function normally, with unknown consequences.

Researchers continue to study how to avoid these possible complications. Therapeutic cloning, also called somatic cell nuclear transfer, is a technique to create versatile stem cells independent of fertilized eggs.

In this technique, the nucleus, which contains the genetic material, is removed from an unfertilized egg. The nucleus is also removed from a somatic cell of a donor. This donor nucleus is then injected into the egg, replacing the nucleus that was removed, a process called nuclear transfer. The egg is allowed to divide and soon forms a blastocyst. This process creates a line of stem cells that is genetically identical to the donor's — in essence, a clone. Some researchers believe that stem cells derived from therapeutic cloning may offer benefits over those from fertilized eggs because cloned cells are less likely to be rejected once transplanted back into the donor and may allow researchers to see exactly how a disease develops.

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Animal cells are generally smaller than plant cells. While animal cells come in various sizes and tend to have irregular shapes, plant cells are more similar in size and are typically rectangular or cube shaped. A plant cell also contains structures not found in an animal cell. Some of these include a cell wall, a large vacuole, and plastids.

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When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.

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Aug 05,  · The National Institutes of Health announced on Thursday that it was planning to lift its ban on funding some research that injects human stem cells into animal embryos. The N.I.H. announced its proposal in a blog post by Carrie Wolinetz, the associate director for science policy, and in . In early August , the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it was planning to lift its ban on funding some research that injects human stem cells into animal embryos.

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A new study shows that the behavior of stem cells in plants and animals is surprisingly similar. The researchers were able to produce mathematical equations that reveal very small differences in the behavior of the proteins. In the summer of , President Bush stood his ground on the issue of stem cell research and vetoed a bill passed by the Senate that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Currently, American federal funding can only go to research on stem cells from existing (already destroyed) embryos.