Stem cells are pretty amazing. These dudes are the chameleons of the body. They can transform themselves into virtually any type of cell, whether it a pacemaker cell in the heart or a cell in the bone. At birth there a quite a few of these stem cells. However, as we age, these cells like many other things in our body, just fade away and are much harder to locate.
What’s the big deal about these cells? Well, for one since they can become almost any cell in the body. they could be used to replace for example muscle cells in the heart after a heart attack, brain cells after a stroke, neurons after a spinal cord injury, liver cells after severe hepatitis and the list goes on and on.
Previously these cells were harvested from aborted embryos, a process which inflamed tensions from antiabortion groups. Recently, a process has been developed through which mature cells can be coaxed into becoming stem cells. What this means is that cells from say your skin ( a good location as these cells are easily harvested) can be transformed into stem cells, which in turn can be fashioned into other cells say retinal cells and thus cure blindness. Sounds too good to be true, but someday that just may be possible.
For those of you hoping to ditch botox and plastic surgeons, hold your horses. It will be many years before the potential of these stem cells is realized and treatments are marketed. The process which turns off the cells as well as the stem cells themselves might predispose one to cancer. Remember these cells can become any type of cell, including cancer cells. The effects on other parts of the body when these stem cells are transfused is still unclear.
Still, the future holds promise and you can rest assured that major medical companies are very, very interested.