10 things to know about stem cells

The hope of scientists is to one day be able to cure many diseases with stem cells. But what exactly are they and for what pathologies can they be useful?

What are stem cells?

They are undifferentiated cells, so they do not yet have a precise function within the body. But they are able to specialize (differentiate) and give life to many other types of cells, from blood cells to nerve, muscle, bone and so on.

What features do they have?

They are able to reproduce almost unlimitedly, while all the other cells of the organism, after they have divided a certain number of times, exhaust their ability to reproduce. They are indispensable for the differentiation and repair of damaged tissues.

How many types of stem cells are there?

Until a few years ago, only two types were known: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Then the stem cells of the amniotic fluid and those of the umbilical cord, the fetal stem cells were discovered and “artificial” stem cells were created in the laboratory.

What characteristics do embryonic stem cells have?

They are able to generate all the cells of the body and for this characteristic they are called pluripotent. They are found in embryos at a very immature stage of development. They pose ethical problems, since to obtain them it is necessary to destroy embryos.

What characteristics do adult stem cells have?

They are typically multipotent cells, capable of generating only a few types of specialized cells. Some adult stem cells are unipotent because they produce only one type of specialized cell. They are found in many tissues and organs of our body, including bone marrow, brain, and intestines.

What is stem cell therapy?

It is a treatment in which stem cells are used to repair damage, which can be limited to a tissue, an organ, a specific group of cells or affect an entire function of the organism (for example blood production).

What diseases are already treated with stem cells?

The only widely used therapy is transplantation of blood stem cells that are found both in the blood and in the bone marrow. It is used to treat different types of leukemia and lymphoma and some blood diseases.

What diseases could be cured with stem cells?

The greatest hope is to be able to generate organs and tissues to replace malfunctioning ones. Numerous studies are underway on their use to repair heart damage, spinal cord damage and to treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Why do many patients go abroad to receive stem cell therapies?

Some countries have very lax laws that allow the use of stem cells to treat various diseases, but without the proposed therapies having been preceded by trials aimed at verifying their safety and efficacy.

What does the Italian law say about the use of stem cells?

In Italy it is not allowed to take embryonic stem cells because this would result in the destruction of the embryo. However it is possible to buy cell lines abroad. The law also prohibits the storage of cord stem cells for private use. Public banks are allowed, where you can donate your child’s cord.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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