What are stem cells, and why are they so important?
Stem cells are the builders and the repairmen of the world’s most complex construction project: the creation of a human body! Thanks to the seven million California voters who voted Yes on Proposition 71, California’s $3 billion stem cell initiative, California’s scientists are already making remarkable progress toward developing stem cell therapies for patients suffering from diseases long considered to be incurable. The road to therapies and cures is long and challenging; however, even the inevitable challenges and setbacks will help to advance our understanding of disease and injury. Find out what stem cells are, where they come from, how they are used in medicine today, and what promise they hold for medicine tomorrow.
What is the potential of stem cell research?
Embryonic stem cells can become any other kind of cell. In theory, they could replace defective or dying cells in disease or injury.. One example is Type 1 diabetes, where insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are attacked by the immune system. Another example is Parkinson’s disease, which involves the death of a certain kind of brain cell. In theory, we could turn embryonic stem cells into healthy insulin-producing and brain cells.
There is another less-obvious use of these cells in therapy development too. One is using stem cells for screening drugs. In this screening, stem cells are grown and differentiated into the cell type of interest in a certain disease. In Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, this would be a specific kind of brain cell. Then scientists apply a “library” of different drugs to see if they are beneficial. If so, the road to the clinic is much shorter than coming up with an entirely new drug, which takes many more years of research and resources. In this way, stem cells are used in concert with typical pharmaceuticals to come up with therapies.