Hannah Warren, a 2-year old girl born without a trachea made recent news for receiving a synthetic windpipe generated from her own stem cells. The stem cells were taken from Hannah’s bone marrow and placed onto an artificial scaffold, where the stem cells divided and replicated themselves into a new windpipe. Hannah survived 3 months with a normally functioning trachea succumbing to problems with other organs that could not be replaced. This is just one of many cases of the use of stem cells in modern medicine.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are relatively unspecialized cells that have the ability to develop and differentiate into different cell types with a specific function. In other words, they are not devoted to a specific function, however they have the potential to differentiate into a specialized cell. Stem cells work to renew and restore cells in specific tissues and organs, by means of cell division. The division of a stem cell can result in an undifferentiated stem cell or a specialized cell. These specialized cells can be used towards further understanding of infections, cancer and many other diseases. In addition stem cells can aid in the study of new drugs and are the forefront in the future of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, as displayed in the case of Hannah’s windpipe.
Types of Stem Cells:
There are two main sources of stem cells, which are embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic (also known as somatic, tissue, or adult stem cells). Embryonic stem cells are cells derived from an embryo that can differentiate into all specialized cells of the body. Non-embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated cells derived from a tissue or organ with the ability to differentiate into specialized cells for that specific tissue or organ. Owing to the fact embryonic stem cells can produce any type of cell in the body, they have a greater potency than adult stem cells. Thus, the potential for a stem cell to differentiate into a specialized cell varies. Therefore, stem cells are categorized into groups based on their capability to specialize, which is listed as follows: totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent, oligopotent and unipotent.
Stem Cell Sources:
Stem cells can be taken from specific sources in the body:
-Umbilical Cord Blood and Tissue
-Tissue Stem Cells
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