What are stem cells?

28 February 2019

Written by • WideAcademy

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are the foundation for every organ and tissue in the body - consider them the mother cells of any type of cell. Stem cells can become cells of the blood, heart, bones, skin, muscles, brain and so on.

There are many different sources of stem cells but all types of stem cells have the same capacity to develop into multiple types of cells. They have the ability to self-renew, so stem cells can live for the whole lifetime of the human or animal. Sterm cells can also differentiate, allowing more specialised cells to develop, such as the cells in the blood.

Stem cells can come from many different tissues the body and are formed at different times in our lives. For example embryonic stem cells exist only at the earliest stages of embryonic development and various other types of tissue-specific (or adult) stem cells appear during fetal development and remain in our bodies throughout life.

Stem cells can be retrieved from a variety of sources in the human body:

  • Umbilical Cord Blood
  • Umbilical Cord Tissue
  • Placenta
  • Adipose tissue (fat)
  • Dental pulp
  • Peripheral blood (Very Small Embryonic Like Stem Cells, VSEL, found in the blood in our veins)

There are an increasing number of diseases which can be treated with stem cell therapy. Bone marrow transplants were the most widely used stem cell transplant. More recently cord blood has been introduced as a source of stem cells and has now been used to treat more than 80 diseases.

In diseases such as leukemia, stem cell activity is disrupted resulting in an excess of abnormal white cells. This can be corrected using stem cell transplantation.