There is a lot of controversy about Stem Cells, and we see them in the news a lot.
The thing that is so great about stem cells is that they hold the ability to develop into different types of cells. So they are not “specialized” cells – it’s like they haven’t decided what they want to be when they grow up, but they could become organ cells or bone marrow, etc.
So their potential to help heal is enormous!
You may have thought that all stem cells are embryonic (where a lot of the controversy has come from), but that is not true. Another type of stem cell occurs in many adult organs and is seemingly able to grow into cells of the organ they came from – they are more limited, but under further investigation.
Experiments have been done to produce liver tissue from stem cells (in Japan), as well as heart tissue at the University of Pittsburgh.
[box type=”info” align=”alignleft” ]European scientists from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Austria and the Edinburgh University of Human Genetics recently have grown brain tissue from stem cells![/box]
It does seem like when there is one scientific breakthrough, there are other, related discoveries in the same area. Growing organ tissue from stem cells is no different it seems.
They are a long way from being able to grow an entire organ, let alone a brain, and put it inside a human. However these tissues can also be used to test new drugs and it is hoped they can use the stem cell generated tissues for cell-based therapies.
It may be possible to transplant some of these cells into an ailing organ and have it repair the damage.
This is an exciting area of study, and there will be much more to come. If you want to find out more about Stem Cells, there is a great primer put out by National Institutes of Health. You can find it at http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/Pages/Default.aspx