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FAQ's About Stem Cell Research

Stem cells have the potential to:
 Replace cell tissue that has been damaged or destroyed by illness,
 Replicate themselves over and over for a very long time,
 Help scientists understand the origin of human biological development
 Help scientists understand healthy & diseased cells in hope of creating treatments & cures for many diseases.
Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells for as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each ‘daughter’ cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
They are in a sense, the cells from which all else “Stems”. Bioethicist Alexander Capron of the World Health Organization described a stem cell as, “the foundation of organisms, the stalk from which everything buds and branches.”
Stem cells may be either embryonic or adult (Somatic). As a fertilized egg divides, the multiplying embryonic stem cells differentiate into or become all of the diverse tissues of the body, such as lungs, liver, brain, hair, heart.
Stem Cells are special cells with the amazing power to transform into any tissue or organ in your body. It is due to these special powers that they have the potential to treat over 80 life threatening diseases and disorders.
Although, there are various types of stem cells that exist in the human body, stem cell therapy makes use of two main types, namely Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSC) and Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC).
The great thing about stem cells is that they can be extracted from a number of sources, like embryo, umbilical cord, cord blood, placenta, bone marrow, teeth, etc. The most abundant source of stem cells is the placenta (Chorion & Decidua), amniotic sac and amniotic fluid. For other sources.
Types of Stem Cells
There are various types of stem cells that exist in the human body. Depending on the disorder required to be treated, the following three types that may be used:
• Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSC): These are found mostly in the bone marrow but also in peripheral blood, cord blood etc. These cells are hematopoietic or blood forming by nature. Thus, they generally give rise to blood forming cells eg. Red blood cells, white blood cells etc.
• Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC): These are bone marrow populating cells (different from HSC) that are present in the stroma. They possess the ability to differentiate into various cell types including, osteocytes (Bone), adipocytes (Fat), chondrocytes (Cartilage), myocytes (Muscle), cardiomyocytes (Cardiac Muscle) and neurons (Nerves) and blood vessels, and thus play a vital role in their regeneration as and when required.
• Pluripotent Stem Cells (PSC): These are stem cells that have the characteristics of both Hematopoietic & Mesenchymal cells. Thus, they are capable of differentiating into all types tissues in the body.
Autologous is when the donor and the receiver are the same person. Much like umbilical cord blood banking, tissue banking, stem cells are obtained from a person, processed and Cryo-stored for transplantation in future. This has gained tremendous precedence in major Indian cities in the past decade.
Stem cells regenerate lost or damaged cells. For example, when a person gives or loses blood, stem cells will replenish the supply. If the skin is damaged, it generates new skin cells as it heals. Since stem cells have the ability to generate new tissue specific cells, this area of medicine is often called “Regenerative Medicine”.
All animals, including humans, start from one cell, which results from fertilization of an egg by a sperm. The resulting one cell contains all of the animal's genetic material or DNA and is capable of developing into a complete organism. As the cell divides, the resulting cells or daughter cells will still contain all of DNA, while at the same time becoming specialized and more restricted in their ability to become all types of organs and tissues.
Their potential to treat a number of ailments is getting increasingly evident. This lies in their extremely flexible nature, because of which they can effortlessly divide and renew themselves, and take the form of a desired tissue or cell. Following are some of the unique properties of stem cells that may make them ideal for treating a number of disorders:
• Plasticity: Stem cells can use one tissue and create cell types of entirely different tissues.
• Homing: They have a unique ability to get attracted to the site of injury.
• Engraftment: This property helps them to unite with the new tissue, thus regenerating tissue to integrate with the parent tissue smoothly.
• They are non-toxic and devoid of side effects compared to its toxic drug counterparts.
• Their use for therapeutic purposes can ensure lower treatment costs and promote longer lives.
• Stem cell therapy addresses both better treatment giving longer life, and lower costs.
Yes, adult or somatic stem cells have been used for some time to treat disease. For example, blood stem cells created in the bone-marrow are used in “Bone - Marrow Transplant" as a common therapy for various blood based diseases such as leukemia and aplastic anemia. Organ transplantation also uses stem cell technology.
Embryonic stem cells come from the “Inner Cell Mass” of a group of cells called a blastocyst. The blastocyst is an early stage of development known as the “Zygote” that occurs within the first 4 - 6 days after fertilization. Once the “Inner Cell Mass” or embryonic stem cells are removed from the blastocyst, the cells may be kept alive in a petridish under specific laboratory conditions. Such cells are pluripotent meaning they may become any cell in the body.
They are stem cells found in the tissue and organs of organisms that have the potential to become their tissue of origin. Essentially, adult or somatic stem cells are tissue specific stem cells that will have a specific occupation within the organism, for example, embryonic stem cells that differentiate or become heart stem cells will form heart tissue.
Such cells have the ability to replenish or maintain tissues that have a limited life span, such as skin and intestines. For example, the human intestine sheds and replaces 100 billion cells daily by dividing stem cells that generate replacements for the short - lived cells.
Thus, adult or somatic stem cells are “Differentiated” or specifically assigned to the creation or replenishing of cells in specific tissues or organs.
Differentiation is the process in which a cell, such as a stem cell, specializes in the creation or replenishing of cells in specific tissues or organs in the body.
The process occurs through the activation (“Turning On”) or inactivation (“Turning Off”) of specific genes in the cells. The turning on / turning off process results in the development of cells that are assigned specific tasks such as creating the heart or replenishing the lining of the intestine.
 Excess fertilized eggs from In – Vitro - Fertilization clinics,
 Using IVF procedures with donated oocytes and sperm to make blastocyst for research, or
 Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT)
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Assisted Reproductive Technology or ART includes all treatments or procedures that involve the laboratory handling of human eggs and sperm for the purpose of fertilizing an egg and helping a woman become pregnant.
A small sample of Adipose tissue (Fat) is removed from above the Superior Iliac spine (Love Handles) or abdomen under a local anesthetic. Obtaining Adipose -Derived Stem Cells (ADSCs) is much easier and less invasive than performing a bone marrow extraction.