What are stem cells and what is their role in medicine? Have you ever damaged a part of your body? Maybe you tore a muscle, broke a bone or even had a heart attack. In many cases, invasive surgery is necessary to repair the area. But what if there was an alternative—way a less invasive way—to treat these serious injuries.
How, you ask? By using stem cells.
When doctors discovered stem cells could be derived from animals in the early 1980s, it opened up the possibility of conducting new medical procedures to heal wounds. But more work was needed to figure out whether stem cells could actually help heal areas of the human body. After all, scientists had yet to obtain stem cells from humans. That all changed in 1998 when they drew cells from human embryos and grew the former in laboratories. They were called human embryonic stem cells.
Since then scientists have also been able to pull stem cells from other parts of the body such as bone marrow, hair follicles, dental pulp, skin and skeletal muscles. These are called non-embryonic stem cells.
What makes all stem cells unique is their ability to transform into other types of cells in the body. They act as a type of internal repair system to help replenish lost cells as long as the person is still alive. Even more interesting is that stem cells make key decisions. When they divide, they can either remain a stem cell or turn into another type of cell such as a muscle, red blood or brain cell.
As you can see, stem cell treatment presents doctors with a new, advanced way to heal people.