What Are Stem Cells?
Now you’re thinking about your baby’s future well being. You know what cord-blood banking is and an overview on how the procedure works. But now you’re wondering what is a stem cell anyway and why are they so important as a new addition to medical research and procedures?
Stem cells are special and have two important traits that separate them from other cells in the human body. The first characteristic is they are an unspecialized cell — for example a skin cell can only be a skin cell but a stem cell can be developed into any other cell in the body. The second trait, they continuously rejuvenate themselves through cell division. Since they are unspecialized primitive cells, under the right condition they can become any type of cell which is a huge step in overcoming many drawbacks of transplants.
There are two different types of stem cells — adult and embryonic. Adult stem cells are found mostly in bone marrow and they are capable of making the three different types of blood cells found in our bodies. They develop into mature red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. Stem cells can also be found in the blood, muscles, and brain tissue where they function to make replacements for cells lost from disease, injury, or just normal wear and tear that comes with aging.
Embryonic stem cells are a more primitive version of cells because they are the building blocks that form a fetus (developing baby). In a three to five day embryo, stem cells developing in the tissues begin to create the specialized cells needed to produce and function the brain, lungs, heart, as well as form the skin and other tissues. Embryonic stem cells are vastly more versatile than adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can stay in stasis for a year or more and not specialize into a particular cell whereas adult stem cells do not have that capability at this time during research.
The stem cells taken from the umbilical cord blood are not the same as embryonic stem cells. But cord-blood cells are much less mature than those found in bone marrow, peripheral (circulating) blood, and muscles so they carry a lower incidence rate of graft versus host disease (GVHD). This is a very big advantage when dealing with transplants because it does not require a “perfect match” between the donor and the patient.
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