At the heart of the stem cell controversy lies the question of where stem cells are harvested from and how they are used from that point on. Many people who fight against stem cell research and the use of stem cells for treatment options are simply unaware of the many benefits of using stem cells to make great strides in healthcare options and choices for medicine for patients everywhere. Grasping a clearer understanding of what stems cells are really used for and where they come from will lead to not only better treatment options, but also less stress and frustration on all sides about the great debates over stem cell research.
First, what are stem cells and what kinds of stem cells are there? Stem cells are an amazing type of cell that can differentiate into other kinds of cells and divide infinitely, producing more stem cells to do the same thing. Embryonic stem cells, or stem cells in their truest form, are able to differentiate into truly any kind of cell. They do this as part of the construction process in creating a new mammal. They also have unlimited potential to reproduce, which means that they will continue to produce more and more stem cells to continue doing the same thing; differentiating into new cells! Adult stem cells are a bit more limited in their potential than embryonic stem cells. These stem cells are located in the tissue of mammals and serve as the repair team, differentiating into different kinds of cells within a specific realm. Adult stem cells and progenitor cells are important to replacing cells that no longer function properly or need repairing.
Stem cells can be found in a few different places in the body and are harvested or removed from a few different places as well. The three most common ways to retrieve stem cells from the human body are through bone marrow, adipose tissue, and through blood itself. Bone marrow extraction occurs through drilling into the bone, usually the femur or iliac crest. Adipose tissue, or lipid cells, can be removed through the liposuction process. Extraction of stem cells through blood occurs through apheresis, where blood is drawn and then put through a machine that extracts the stem cells. The other unused parts of the blood are returned to the donor. Through the autologous bone marrow or other extraction process, stem cells are taken from and utilized in one person. This is perhaps the best way to work with stem cells, as it poses the least risk. By using stem cells from you own body, you increase the chances that the stem cells will be accepted and everything will go smoothly. Adult stem cells can now even been grown artificially and differentiated into specialized cells as needed. Similar work is being done with autologous embryonic stem cells, although this type of therapy still has a long way to go before it can be used.
Gaining a clearer understanding of stem cells and their importance in regenerative treatments will help people make educated decisions about their treatment options in the future.