What Is A Stem Cell
Learning what is a stem cell can be a very interesting and complicated subject. For several decades now, scientists have been researching the formation and uses of stem cells. But what exactly are stem cells and how are they different from regular cells?
Regular Cells Vs. Stem Cells. In every single cell in an individual's body, the DNA in the nucleus, the genetic blueprint of that person, is exactly the same. What causes cells to differentiate say between a bone cell and a liver cell is a process known as methylization and acetylization. Basically, when DNA is in the nucleus, organic methyl groups (CH3) tag to the strands of DNA muting the presence of a gene. Additionally, acetyl groups (COCH3) tag to proteins called histones which are what DNA strands are wrapped around, causing a gene to activate. Depending on what genes are muted or activated, a cell will produce proteins that define its function and shape. In stem cells, which are found in the embryo of an individual and in adult bone marrow, these methyl and acetyl tags have yet to be turned on, leaving the cell in a state of totipotency; that stem cell can become any type of somatic cell.
Why Do They Only Occur In Embryos and Bone Marrow? In a mature human, as soon as they leave the mother's womb, their cells have differentiated into the majority of body cells that will have the same function for the rest of their lives, save for the growth of reproductive cells. When a cell reaches this point, it becomes near-impossible to revert a cell back to its basic, totipotent state. In embryos, the individual has not yet begun to develop specialized cells and will remain in a blank state until the second trimester. In bone marrow, stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they are restricted to becoming only a few types of cells which depends on what is needed; this function is restricted to white blood cells only.
What Are The Uses of Stem Cells? Scientists have found that stem cells are the key to developing a plethora of different advancements in the medical field. For starters, one of the big problems hospitals and patients face is a finite availability of blood and organs. People that require transplants have to go on awfully long waiting lists, sometimes taking so long that an individual may never receive an organ before they die of complications. Additionally, hospitals only have so much in their blood banks to give out to patients, which are required if one needs an extensive surgery or transfusion. Because stem cells have not differentiated yet, scientists believe that an organ can be grown from stem cells then given to patients, reducing the time it takes to receive an organ and possibly preventing organ rejections. All it would take is the ability to add methyl or acetyl tags to a stem cell, which would allow it specialize.
What Are Problems With Stem Cells? Some conservative politicians are fervently against the use of stem cells and cause problems with research and development. Because a totipotent stem cell can only be acquired from embryonic tissue, the cell would be unable to fully develop into a fetus, which conservatives equivocate to murder. Though research is progressing under today's liberal environment, all it takes is the passage of a bill to completely ban stem cell research in the US. Additionally, scientists are still fully unsure of what genes must be activated to create a certain type of body cell and they have not yet mastered the ability to grow organs at a rate fast enough that an individual could use it.