Adult Stem cells (also referred to as Somatic stem cells) are primordial cells that do not have morphologic and functional characteristics (undifferentiated cells) and can be found in the brain, blood vessels, bone marrow, skin, skeletal muscle and liver. Although these cells maintain and repair the tissues in which they are found, there are only very limited number of adult stem cells in each tissue. However using their capacity to divide or replicate, adult stem cells can replenish dying cells (as long as the host organism is alive) and regenerate damaged tissues. While embryonic stem cells are defined by their origin (the inner cell mass of the blastocyst) the origin of adult stem cells in mature tissues is unclear.
Since adult stem cells can divide and differentiate to replenish other cells, they have the potential to function as a repair tool for the human body, although several technical glitches remain to be resolved. Nevertheless, as of now, using the technique of cell culture, adult stem cells can be grown into specialized cells resembling the cells of various tissues such as muscles and nerves. In other words, these cells can be used to develop new therapies for certain degenerative disease and as a matter of fact, today seventy-two adult stem cell treatments are deemed possible.
The key in using adult stem cells to cure damaged tissues lies in its ability to differentiate into different cell types given appropriate conditions. Furthermore, if this ability of adult stem cells to differentiate into different cell types can be done within a controlled laboratory setting, then it could be used to regenerate dying cells in different tissues. Besides, if adult stem cells were taken from the patients itself (autologous) then the chances of rejection of replacement tissue is also minimal.
Adult stem cells used in bone-marrow transplants can treat leukemia and certain blood disorders. Although it's been over thirty years since adult blood forming cells from bone marrow have been used, the focus of biotechnology scientists has been in creating specific cell types from adult stem cells for treating disease or injury. As a result, some of the major uses of adult stem cells to cure damaged tissues are:
For creating insulin-producing cells in type 1 diabetes- Adult stem cells can be used to successfully regenerate pancreas by increasing the number of pancreatic islets and increase insulin producing beta cells, thereby effectively contributing to the treatment of diabetes type 1.
Replacement of dopamine producing cells in Parkinsonism: Researchers at the Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles are credited with pioneering the Parkinson's procedure, whereby adult stem cells from the patient's brain were isolated, nurtured and then re-injected. This procedure is known to regenerate damaged brain tissue. Adult stem cells of brain tissues can be transformed into the three major cell types of the brain namely, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and neurons.
For repairing cardiac muscle cells in patients that have suffered a heart attack: Spectacular results have been obtained by using adult stem cells in regenerating cardiac tissues. A typical procedure would start by first drawing blood from the patient needing cardiac treatment, and then it would be sent to a biotechnology laboratory. Here the stem cells would be separated from the blood, and then expanded and activated to about 80 million stem cells. These stem cells are sent back to the hospital where the patient was being treated. It would then be injected into the patient's heart through catheters that ensure that the cells reach the exact area where tissue repair was required. The idea is not to fix heart muscle but to regenerate new cardiac tissues, and spectacular results have been reported.
For curing damaged tissues in the vascular system: Adult stem cells can be used to prevent amputation by increasing blood flow to the legs. It's particularly useful in healing diabetic ulcers and wounds. Besides it strengthens the entire vascular system as well.
In patients with pulmonary hypertension adult stem cells can replace damaged blood vessels in the lungs. In other words new blood vessels start sprouting.
Adult stem cells derived from the bone marrow can be differentiated into bone cells, cartilage cells, fat cells and connective tissue cells like that of the tendons. Using adult stem cells cartilage lesions can be prevented from turning into osteoarthritis. Besides, it is particularly useful for patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee and hip.
There are several more ways as to how adult stem cells can cure tissues, and discussing all of them is beyond the scope of this article. However other uses of adult stem cells include its use for regeneration of muscles; to form skin substitutes for healing ulcers and wound healing (which involves skin and soft tissue repair); for treating spinal cord injury; for repairing liver and hepatic tissues; for making transplants for scleroderma; for curing pulmonary hypoplasia (where organ development remains incomplete); curing lung tissues with adipose stromal; for curing irritable bowel syndrome involving tissues of large intestine; for curing necrosis of bone; and for curing sickle-cell anemia.
Looking to the future, research in the area of adult intestinal stem cells to find cures for intestinal tissues is perhaps very promising. As the intestines in our body replenishes its cells after several days, these cells are already designed to transform to mucus cells or epithelial cells, and as harvesting these cells is also easy, they hold the maximum scope for future therapeutic use.
As adult stem cells work to cure damaged tissues by using human body's natural regenerative capabilities (by replacing damaged cells) it should not be considered as a temporary fix. With their ability to repair tissues and grow organs, there is no doubting the potential of adult stem cell research in revolutionizing the domain of human health- care
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