What are stem cells?

The body is made up of about 200 different kinds of specialized cells such as muscle cells, nerve cells, fat cells and skin cells. All specialized cells originate from stem cells. A stem cell is a cell that is not yet specialized. The process of specialization is called differentiation and once the differentiation pathway of a stem cell has been decided, it can no longer become another type of cell.

Stem cells have different levels of potential. A stem cell that can become every type of cell in the body is called pluripotent and a stem cell that can become only some types of cells is called multipotent.

Where are stem cells found?

Stem cells are found in the early embryo, the fetus, amniotic fluid, the placenta and umbilical cord blood. After birth and for the rest of life, stem cells continue to reside in many sites of the body, including skin, hair follicles, bone marrow and blood, brain and spinal cord, the lining of the nose, gut, lung, joint fluid, muscle, fat, and menstrual blood, to name a few. In the growing body, stem cells are responsible for generating new tissues, and once growth is complete, stem cells are responsible for repair and regeneration of damaged and aging tissues.

When you bank your newborn's cord blood, you preserve a unique biological resource that is like a "repair kit" for your child, and possibly another immediate family member.

Uses of Stem Cells

Stem cells have been used to treat over 80 diseases, including malignancies, blood disorders and immune deficiencies. Stem cells work by providing new cells to replace damaged, diseased, or defective cells.

  • Stem cells can actively divide and produce new blood cells within two to six weeks.
  • will stimulate regeneration of the blood components in the bone marrow damaged by high doses of chemotherapy or radiation. This often occurs in leukemia or lymphoma, for example, when the bone marrow is diseased and must be destroyed.
  • Stem cells can correct defects in children with inherited or inborn errors of metabolism by replacing these defective cells in the bone marrow with new, non-defective cells.
  • Stem cells can produce other types of cells that travel to the brain, liver, and other organs. Research is currently being done on these other uses.

The Body's Master Cells

Stem cells can change (or differentiate) into other cell types inside the body as needed. This is why they are considered a medical miracle with huge promise for disease treatments.

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