Many people only think of the controversial embryonic stem cell research when they hear of stem cell research. While popular, there is more than one field of stem cell research out there. In this article, Yuben Moodley, experienced physician and researcher, details three areas of stem cell research for those looking to understand more.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The most well-known division of research in stem cells is embryonic stem cells. These stem cells are derived from embryos that are in an early developmental stage, usually only three to five days old. The cells at this stage are called a blastocyst, which makes up about 150 cells.
These cells intrigue scientists greatly as they are pluripotent, which means they can divide into additional cells and become any type of cell in the body. By carrying such versatility, these stem cells have the potential to be used to regenerate or repair tissues and organs in the human body. However, this form of stem cell research is highly criticized and debated due to the fact that the stem cells are extracted for use by destroying human embryos.
Adult Stem Cell Research
Adult stem cells take on the responsibility of maintaining and repairing tissue in the tissues where they are found. While scientists call them adult stem cells, other researchers may also refer to them as somatic cells from the Greek word “soma,” meaning a body, as these cells can be found in any body tissue for people ranging from babies to adults. Unlike embryonic stem cells, which can only be harvested from the early stages of an embryo, adult stem cells can essentially be found and extracted from any living human. These stem cells can be taken from bone marrow, muscles, fat tissues, and umbilical cord blood to treat several illnesses.
The research in this field believes that they may become a “natural” solution for many. As adult stem cells naturally exist in each of our bodies, they possess their own natural repair mechanism for most tissues in the body.
Adult stem cells have been used successfully in many human therapies over recent years. Whereas other research areas are still in early phases on animals, there have been significant breakthroughs in testing for human therapies, putting this area of stem cell research far ahead. Some of the many conditions and illnesses adult stem cells have already successfully treated include liver disease, metabolic disorders, anemia, and certain blood conditions, Parkinson’s Disease, Macular Degeneration, heart disease, autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Crohn’s Rheumatoid Arthritis, and many types of cancer.
RNA Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research
The study behind RNA induced pluripotent stem cells is essentially a way to reprogram somatic (adult) stem cells into pluripotent stem cells by synthetically modifying the RNA in each cell. Studies have been performed by taking skin fibroblasts or peripheral blood mononuclear cells and genetically reprogramming them. When each cell is reprogrammed, they take on embryonic stem cell-like properties.
While this research area is relatively new, it holds promise as it removes the ethical concern of extracting cells from human embryos. With the elimination of ethical issues, there is a higher likelihood that induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) research can obtain a more generous amount of federal funding and overall support.
About Yuben Moodley
Dr. Yuben Moodley is a physician, scientist, and associate professor of respiratory medicine. He is dedicated to providing high-quality patient care, conducting cell and molecular research, and teaching. He is the head of the Stem Cell Unit at the Lung Institute of Western Australia, Consultant Respiratory Physician at Royal Perth Hospital, and Associate Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Western Australia.