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Studying Stem Cells

September 15th, 2014

The study of stem cells is fast becoming a popular and specialised area of expertise; propelled forward with advancements in technology and further understanding of biology, stem cell research promises to hold the key to curing many seemingly incurable diseases and injuries. This article will aim to provide an introduction to this particular field of study.

What are Stem Cells?

Most of the cells in our bodies have a specific purpose and that purpose cannot be changed, but stem cells are different, they can become any cell that is needed by the body. Stem cells fall into two categories: embryonic and adult. Most research is undertaken using the former, because it is difficult to differentiate between the types of adult stem cells that can be seen under the microscope. Adult stem cells are found within tissue that has already developed and it is their job to repair various parts of the body, by dividing and creating new cells. Embryonic stem cells are produced when an egg is fertilised and begins to divide; they can develop into any type of cell far more easily than adult cells, hence the preference for using them in medicine and research.

How are Stem Cells collected?

Adult stem cells are collected directly from our tissue, such as from bone marrow when treating leukaemia, whilst embryonic stem cells are usually collected from embryos that have been specifically grown in a laboratory – there is much debate over the ethics of this practise. There are other ways to collect the necessary cells and they include harvesting from “spare embryos” that are created via IVF, the umbilical cord shortly after birth and organs of an aborted foetus.

How are Stem Cells used in medicine?

Because stem cells can be altered to become any cell in the body, the potential uses for stem cells in medicine are astounding. At present, they are used to treat blood diseases and tumours; but there is research underway that looks at the use of stem cells in treating a wide array of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even blindness.

For more information on stem cell research, visit the following websites: