Stem cells are native cells present in the human body, with the ability to mature into numerous diverse cell lineages. These cells have the potential to repair damaged tissues and organs and are maybe the future of personalized medicine.
Types of Stem Cells
All stem cells do not give rise to every body tissue. This factor depends on potency. Stem cells are categorized according to their ability to specialize into various types of cells:
- Totipotent: These stem cells have the ability to differentiate into all cell types of the human body. These cells are formed in the initial phase of zygote division and can give rise to the whole human body.
- Pluripotent: These cells have the ability to differentiate into every human body cell, other than the placenta. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent in nature.
- Multipotent: These stem cells have the ability to specialize into specific cell lineages. The commonly used multipotent stem cells in therapy are hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells. For example, adult hematopoietic cells can form red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.
- Oligopotent: These stem cells have the ability to differentiate into more specific cell types than multipotent stem cells. For example, stem cells giving rise to lymphoid or myeloid cells.
- Unipotent: These stem cells can only differentiate into one cell type and have the ability to renew themselves, like adult muscle stem cells.
Sources of Stem Cells
In the case of bone marrow, mesenchymal stem cells and hematopoietic stem cells can be found in abundance. Adipose tissue homes mesenchymal stem cells that can specialize in fat, muscle, bone, and cartilage cells. These two sources are commonly used for autologous stem cell therapy (cells taken from the same patient) while the most common source of allogeneic stem cell therapy (cells taken from another individual) is umbilical cord stem cells. Umbilical cord blood is an excellent source of stem cells with hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cell populations. Another lesser-known source of stem cells in amniotic fluid but as stem cells are not yet well characterized, research is underway.
Uses of Stem Cells
The potential of stem cells is unlimited and if exploited properly can save countless lives. The common uses of stem cells include:
3D platforms for Biomedical Research
Stem cells have been extensively used in preparing 3D models for research into wound healing, tissue engineering, drug testing, and cancer studies, among several others.
Tissue regeneration is undoubtedly the most vital application of stem cells. Owing to the huge scarcity of donor organs, tissue regeneration is a crucial domain for assuring tissue supply in cases of transplantation. If stem cells are instructed to differentiate in a particular way, scientists may be able to use them to create specific tissue types or organs.
- Therapeutic purposes
With the help of stem cells, bone marrow transplantation is effortless and risk-free. Efforts are also being made to treat other diseases such as osteoarthritis, Type I Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and anti-aging amongst others.