MEDICAL researchers believe that stem cell therapy has the potential to dramatically change the treatment of human disease.
A number of adult stem cell therapies already exist, particularly bone marrow transplants that are used to treat leukaemia.
Researchers anticipate being able to use technologies derived from stem cell research to treat a wider variety of diseases including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and muscle damage.
Stem cells are cells from which other cells of the same type develop. They are biological cells found in all multicellular organisms, that can divide and differentiate into specialised cell types and can self-renew to produce more stem cells.
In mammals, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, and adult stem cells. In adult organisms, stem cells a act as a repair system for the body, replenishing adult tissues.
In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into specialised cells, but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.
‘Autologous stem cell transplantation’ is a medical procedure in which stem cells are removed, stored, and obtained from a person and later given back to the same person.
There are three accessible sources of autologous adult stem cells in humans: Bone marrow, which requires extraction by drilling into bone; lipid cells, which requires extraction by liposuction, and blood, which requires blood to be drawn from the donor, passed through a machine that extracts the stem cells and returns other portions of the blood to the donor.
Stem cells can also be taken from umbilical cord blood just after birth.
Stem cells can be artificially grown and transformed into specialised cell types with characteristics consistent with cells of various tissues such as muscles or nerves through cell culture.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue it should be pursued because the resultant treatments could have significant medical potential.
It has been proposed that surplus embryos created for in vitro fertilization could be donated with consent and used for the research.
There still exists an amount of social and scientific uncertainty surrounding stem cell research, as recorded on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia on the internet.
One concern is the risk that transplanted stem cells could form tumours and become cancerous if cell division continues uncontrollably.