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Stem cells-what are they and how are they made?

Friday August 23, 2013

Stem cells are immature cells in the body that have the potential to turn into many different cell types. Cells like this are important to the growth and development of a fetus. They also help the body repair and rejuvenate cells that are damaged. Stem cells come from different sources.

  • Embryonic and Fetal. Cells from embryos just a few days old and fetal tissue are the most immature stem cells and are pluripotent or have the ability to grow into any cell type in our body. Ethical and political tensions have limited the use and research with these types of cells, causing researchers to look for other sources.
  • Adult stem cells  are an alternative to embryonic cells. These cells are found in very  small quantity in certain tissues. In 2007 scientists made a major breakthrough when they found ways to induce or reprogram these cells to turn into other cells. These cells are multipotent as they can only turn into certain types of cells and are more limited in their ability to proliferate.
  • Umbilical cord stem cells are derived from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. No blood or tissue is taken from the baby so it has no impact on the pregnancy, delivery or safety of the infant. Some people are donating cord blood from related children at birth for private storage or public storage bank donation. It must be stressed that this is not a current treatment for Parkinson’s disease. See the National Marrow Donor Program for  more information

What problems stand in the way?

  • Ethical arguments continue to cloud stem cell research despite the tremendous promise and potential effect on human suffering.
  • Stem cells especially more immature pluripotent cells divide easily and scientist need to understand how to turn this growth off. This is like designing a care with a gas pedal and no      break. Uncontrolled growth could cause unwanted tumor growth.
  • Stem cells could potentially be rejected by the body’s immune system so immune suppressant treatment may be needed to protect some cell lines in the body.
  • More mature adult stem cells can contain genetic abnormalities that occur naturally with aging and exposure to toxins or even sunlight.

Monique L. Giroux, MDMonique L. Giroux, MD
Medical Director, Northwest Parkinson's Foundation

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