As this is the first blog post I am doing, I thought I would also start with the first building block in the human body, that being a cell, but not just any cell – a stem cell.
Stem cells are cells that are unspecialised and come in the form of tissue stem cells and embryonic stem cells. A tissue stem cell is multi potent, meaning it can differentiate into a limited number of cell types close to its site of origin. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, giving them full differentiation potential to differentiate into all cell types. This unique ability of stem cells makes them vital to the future of healthcare.
A goal of scientists is to understand how and why stem cells differentiate. We know that on a cellular level cell differentiation is when certain genes are switched on and others are switch off to code for a specific protein. This is vital to understand because many serious medical conditions, such as cancer, are due to problems that occur in cell division and differentiation.
Stem cells are useful in testing new drugs for diseases. To be relevant, drug testing needs to be done on micro-organisms with identical conditions to that which humans posses, and due to stem cells differentiation capabilities, scientists can control the differentiation of the cells to achieve the result they need, thus providing accurate testing of drugs.
One of the most important applications of stem cells currently is to grow organs or tissues to replace damaged cells. This works hand in hand with the recent innovation of 3D printing, allowing scientists to create an exact mould in which they can use the stem cells to make the mould a reality.
The possibilities that stem cells provide are endless, whether in the lab or in hospital setting, they are sure to revolutionise healthcare as we know it.