M47 — November 2012 — Stem Cells 101
Intro: Stem cells and their use in regenerative medicine have been in the media a lot lately. But, what exactly does it mean? Physicians and researchers in the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Mayo Clinic say it has to do with developing completely new ways to treat and manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart failure or even degenerative nerve, bone and joint conditions. Experts worldwide will meet this December for the World Stem Cell Summit, where they'll explore and share ideas about regenerative medicine. Here are the basics of how this research benefits patients.
You're looking at a few hundred cells here that are working together.
The heart muscle cells that Dr. Tim Nelson views highlight recent advances into regenerative medicine.
Tissues in your heart, joints and other areas can degenerate, or break down, with time or disease. Regeneration is the renewal of those tissues, which is something the body does naturally.
So one strategy is to try to find ways to improve the healing of your body and another strategy is to actually supplement or augment the stem cells in your body so that we can improve the healing by transplanting stem cells into it.
Dr. Nelson and his colleague Dr. Andre Terzic use stem cells in their research because stem cells are responsible for growing new tissue.
So stem cells just mean that they're seeds that can grow into many, many tissues.
Stem cells can come from a variety of places: embryos, which are not generally used any more, umbilical cord blood, adult blood, or adult bone marrow.
The type of stem cell will dictate how many different types of tissues can emerge out of it.
Scientists can engineer stem cells into the type of cells they want. Here's how it works. Cells called fibroblasts are removed from a patient's skin. They're reprogrammed into what are called pluripotent stem cells. Those cells can then be taught to become any type of healthy cells, such as these heart muscle cells.
The idea is that the newly engineered, healthy cells, when introduced to, say, those of a failing heart, will help restore, or regenerate the function of the unhealthy cell.
One cell that's contracting is working with many cells and that gives the whole tissue the contracting pattern like a normal heart.
It becomes much more real when you have a personal connection to a disease or an illness where we don't currently have good options, and this is where people are asking more and more the questions, what about stem cells?
The answer is — researchers, such as these at Mayo Clinic, push forward to make regenerative medicine a reality for patients searching for successful treatment, and perhaps, cures.
For Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Vivien Williams.
Stem cells have been used successfully for years to treat blood cancers such as leukemia. The hope is that, as technology develops, stem cells will offer hope to many more patients struggling with otherwise incurable disease.
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