Stem cells may potentially be able to repair or replace cells lost due to progressive and devastating diseases that have no cure, but there is a lot that still needs to be understood about how they can help treat these diseases. Here is a closer look at the potential uses of stem cell and the benefits of researching them in depth.
Cell Development Research
Stem cells are studied to better understand how an organism develops. Researchers can follow the division process of stem cells as they go from undifferentiated cells to specialized cells that make up skin, bone, organs, and other body systems.
Using stem cells for this purpose is beneficial because many medical conditions, such as cancer, are caused by defective cell division and differentiation. Therefore, being able to identify and understand the genetic process of cell division will provide critical information about how diseases manifest. Additionally, ideas for potential therapies in treating diseases like cancer is also a benefit of using stem cells for studying development.
Retrieving disease-damaged cells for study is difficult. Due to this complication, stem cells that have been identified or engineered to carry disease-causing genes can be used to study a disease in depth. In other words, researchers can use stem cells to model the progression of a disease under laboratory conditions.
Medical Treatment Research
Stem cell lines are a group of cultured in vitro stem cells that can be grown and harvested indefinitely. They have the potential to be used as a common way to safely test new medications and treatments. Using stem cell lines in this way could decrease the need for animal testing and would help eliminate some ethical issues with human research as well. While this method is not currently widely used, testing is already being done with anti-tumor medication on cancer cell lines.
The benefits of stem cells are not a new discovery. In fact, since the 1980s, stem cells, have been used to grow new skin for burn victims. The new skin, however, is not exactly like skin lost, as it lacks hair follicles and sweat glands. Research is still being done to improve the technique, but it is already used for life-threatening third degree burns. The production of skin stem cells is an example of a cell-based therapy: the creation of new cells and tissues.
Cell based therapies are a significant and promising use of stem cells. The need for tissue and organ transplant is greater than what is available. Therefore, directing stem cells to differentiate into specialized cell types could enable the regeneration of damaged cells to treat diseases such as spinal cord injury, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and others.