Stem cells – what is a new type of therapy? 22nd January 2024 – Tags: ,

When pregnant patients interested in the topic of medical issues search through information, they come across a term such as ‘stem cells’. Although the name seems rather intimidating and complicated, it is not. What do we need this cells for in medicine, and how can we obtain them?

What are stem cells?

This cells are, colloquially speaking, the “building material” of our body’s cells. When exposed to the right conditions in the body or in the laboratory, this cells divide to create more cells called progenitor cells. The progenitor cells then turn into new stem cells, or specialised cells such as bone tissue cells or muscle tissue cells. No other cells in the body have the ability to produce other types of cells.

Stem cell differentiation
The diagram shows the possibilities of transformation of a stem cell.

How do we grow stem cells in the laboratory?

Growing cells in the laboratory is also known as ‘cell culture’. It involves providing the cells with the right conditions so that they can multiply under laboratory conditions. A nutrient broth called culture medium, which is optimised to grow different types of stem cells, is placed in a suitable dish. Most of the new cells adhere to the surface of the dish where they then divide and cover a further surface. The culture dish becomes crowded as further divisions take place, so the cells need to be reseeded, multiple times over several months. Re-seeding the cells is called passaging. As a result of the culture, we can obtain new cells from a few stem cells in numbers of up to several million.

Cell Culture in a tiny Petri dish
The photo shows a dish on which cell culture takes place.

Where are this cells obtained from?

  • Embryonic stem cells – are obtained from embryos that are between 3 and 5 days old. These cells are pluripotent, meaning that they can produce all the body’s cell types
  • Adult stem cells – these cells can be taken from most tissues in the adult body, such as bone marrow or adipose tissue. These cells, however, can only produce new cells of the same species, i.e. bone marrow cells can only produce red blood cells.
  • Transformed cells – as a result of many studies, scientists have succeeded in transforming standard adult body cells into this cells. By altering genes in adult cells, researchers can reprogram them to function similarly to embryonic stem cells.
  • Perinatal stem cells – these are found in amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood. These cells have the ability to transform into specialised cells.
Human embryonic stem cell colony phase
A microscope image shows human embryonic cells.

How do we use stem cells?

Thanks to their special properties, we can use stem cells in many different fields of medicine. Thanks to them, scientists can study how our body works and research new medicines. They are also used as a form of therapy. Well, we can transplant these cells from a culture into a human body affected by a disease. They are often used in diseases such as severe aplastic anaemia, leukaemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, sickle cell anaemia, thalassaemia, severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and Hurler syndrome.

Stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis-1
The picture shows the use of stem cell therapy in a patient.