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These special cells are used in the rapidly growing field of regenerative medicine to halt or even reverse chronic diseases.

There are three types of stem cells: embryonic, umbilical cord also known as mesenchymal, or MSC , and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are considered pluripotent, meaning they can give rise to all of the cell types that make up the human body. In the United States, cord and adult stem cells are the only ones used in regenerative medical procedures.

Due to ethical controversy, embryonic stem cells are not used in clinical practice but can be used for research purposes. Adult stem cells — which can be taken from bone marrow, blood or fat — are mostly free of ethical controversy, but they have limited potential.

What Are Stem Cells?

As we get older, not only do our stem cells lose functionality, but we have far fewer of them. Cell fate decisions involve coordinated regulation on a genome-wide scale; unfortunately, the precise mechanisms underlying these complex processes are largely uncharacterized.

Stem Cells: Their Role in Aging and in the Treatment of Chronic Diseases - Neil Riordan, PA, PhD

In addition, the iPSC technology represents a promising tool for cell therapies and offers unique opportunities in human disease modelling, drug testing and drug discovery, toxicity screening, and novel therapeutic approaches for both general and personalized medicine. Although much additional work is still required to solve safety issues related to using iPSCs for clinical practices i.

Recent advances and important results have confirmed the value of using iPSCs for better understanding of etiology, modeling and treatment of numerous diseases. In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and organs such as the heart, lung, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues.

In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, discrete populations of adult stem cells generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease. Given their unique regenerative abilities, stem cells offer new potentials for treating diseases such as diabetes, and heart disease.

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However, much work remains to be done in the laboratory and the clinic to understand how to use these cells for cell-based therapies to treat disease, which is also referred to as regenerative or reparative medicine. Scientists are already using stem cells in the laboratory to screen new drugs and to develop model systems to study normal growth and identify the causes of birth defects. Research on stem cells continues to advance knowledge about how an organism develops from a single cell and how healthy cells replace damaged cells in adult organisms.

Let’s catch folks up on stem cells. What are they, and why do we care?

Stem cell research is one of the most fascinating areas of contemporary biology, but, as with many expanding fields of scientific inquiry, research on stem cells raises scientific questions as rapidly as it generates new discoveries.