Adult Stem Cells: Nothing to Do with Age, Everything to Do With Healing
Stem cell research has been a moral debate for decades. But some innocent research with very promising applications is getting discriminated against without doing any inherent harm. Adult stem cell research has nothing to do with fetuses -- these cells come from people who are already born.
It wasn't too long ago that the U.S. was embroiled in a bitter debate over whether there was a place for embryonic stem cell research and therapy. Lost in the shuffle of the debate was how important adult stem cells have been to medical treatment for decades. This was partly due to a misunderstanding of what embryonic and adult stem cells are. In short, adult stem cells are not so named because of their age.
The difference between the two kinds of stem cells, biologically speaking, is simply the difference between immaturity and maturity. Embryonic stem cells are immature stem cells that have the potential to become any kind of cell for any purpose. Embryonic stem cells can grow into any form of tissue depending on how they are affected by the genes. Adult stem cells are more limited.
Also known as somatic stem cells, adult stem cells are found in both children and adults. They are mature cells with a genetic make-up that allows them to self-renew to create a generous number of new cells of the same kind of tissue they have been harvested from. Unlike embryonic stem cells, this reproduction carries with it an extremely low risk of producing cancerous cells.
How Adult Stem Cells Are Used
Doctors in the midst of a stem cell training course learn how to extract certain kinds of stem cells and then use them to treat various types of tissue damage. They learn that adult stem cells have two properties that make them good tools for certain therapies:
Self-Renewal – The ability to complete the cell division cycle numerous times without compromising their undifferentiated state.
Multi-Potency – The ability to generate different kinds of cells as opposed to just one.
Adult stem cells are currently used for a number of various therapies, beginning with bone marrow transplants. In fact, this therapy has been used successfully without issue for decades. Adult stem cells are also used to:
- help sports injuries heal faster
- treat chronic pain caused by tissue damage
- promote more natural healing for both injuries and disease.
A Promising Future
Apex Biologix, a Salt Lake City-based firm that provides stem cell training for doctors, says the potential for stem cell therapy and its broader counterpart, regenerative medicine, is bright. Ongoing research has shown promise for using adult stem cells for treatments involving the nervous system, the brain, and more forms of cancer. Even now, what doctors are learning about adult stem cells and their ability to help with wounds and injuries is paving the way for how the cells might be used just a few years from now.
Stem cell therapy in a typical doctor's office as an outpatient procedure is not all that complicated in principle. The doctor will extract either bone marrow or fat tissue, which then is processed to isolate and concentrate the stem cells. The stem cells are then injected directly into the site requiring treatment. Once injected, the cells begin their self-renewal process at the site where they are needed.
Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells that both promote natural healing and can be used to generate various kinds of tissue. They are seen as more reliable and safer than their embryonic stem cell cousins; thus they offer a lot more promise for treating all sorts of diseases and injuries that we currently treat with more invasive means. Doctors undergoing stem cell training are on the cutting edge of what could be the biggest medical breakthrough humanity has ever seen. Only time will tell how big a breakthrough this will truly be.