Important Medical Applications of Stem Cells

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Stem cells are the generative building blocks of the body. They are unspecialized cells capable of dividing into new, specialized matter. They can repair or grow parts of the body according to different stimuli provided to them. There are two major types of stem cells: embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells are naturally found in the organs of human bodies and help to restore organ function after damage or degradation. 

Stem cells have long been the subject of important medical research. Only recently have scientists been able to devise practical uses for stem cells in treatments. There is some controversy surrounding the use of stem cells, but this controversy is rooted in simplistic understandings of human physiology and complex interpretations of human self-identification. Almost all researchers agree that stem cell research should continue under strict ethical guidelines. Here are some of the most important medical applications of stem cells. More applications are being developed at an exponential rate. 

Treating Chronic Pain

Stem cells form an important component in modern high-tech chronic pain treatment. Stem cells are injected into patients in order to accelerate the regeneration of areas that are causing pain. Chronic back pain, for instance, can be alleviated if stem cells specialize themselves into cartilage and muscle tissue around the spine. 

Growing New Tissue 

As this article has already touched upon, stem cells are able to specialize themselves according to external stimuli. This has meant that researchers have been able to actually grow organs in laboratory settings. This is a major breakthrough that could completely revolutionize many areas of medicine. Growing an organ from stem cells is extremely complex. Scientists need to make sure that the stem cells specialize into the exact cell types that are required to make a functional organ. So far, the most success has been found in growing skin from stem cells, which can treat burn victims suffering from extreme skin loss. The ability to grow functional organs in laboratory settings might mean that the scientific community can develop ways of removing person-to-person transplants from use. This could solve the transplant crisis. At the moment there are not enough organs available. 

Testing New Drugs 

Stem cells offer scientists the ability to test the effectiveness and safety of new drugs without endangering the lives of people or animals. All drugs need to undergo rigorous testing in order to prevent dangerous or ineffective medicines from reaching the market. Previous poor testing regimes have led to terrible medical disasters, such as the Thalidomide scandal. Researchers had not rested whether the drug Thalidomide could transfer through the placental barrier, and so it was approved for use by pregnant patients. Developing children exposed to the drug would suffer from various defects, including semi-developed limbs, eyes, and other organs. Stem cells can be used to test the safety of prospective drugs without putting adults or babies in danger. Testing on tissues grown in a lab (such as a placental barrier) is a new and emerging standard.

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