To begin with, what are pluripotent stem cells?
Pluripotent cells are cells naturally found in our body that generate somatic cells, the building blocks of the tissues and organs that compose our body.
These cells are unique in that, under the right conditions, they self-renew by differentiating themselves and giving rise to cells from all three bodily layers – the ectodermic (the skin and nervous system), endodermic (liver, pancreas, and respiratory tracts), and the mesodermic (bone, cartilage, circulatory system), hence why they are referred to as a type of “stem” cell. This property of being able to, in theory, produce an amount of any type of cell that the body may need to survive and repair itself is referred to as “pluripotency.”
Induced pluripotent cells (iPS cells), are ordinary cells - like a skin cell for example - that have been isolated by a scientist and genetically reprogrammed in order to convert it into a pluripotent cell.
Where do pluripotent stem cells come from?
Pluripotent stem cells are typically sourced from embryos that are three to five days old, or extracted from amniotic and umbilical cord fluids; in fact, researchers have identified stem cells naturally occuring in amniotic fluid (the substance protecting fetuses during development).
Because pluripotent cells are obtained from early-stage embryos, a group of 150 or so cells that have been formed within a fertilized egg in a vitro fertilization clinic, its usage in modern medicine has become steeped in much controversy. While these embryos will never be implanted inside the uterus and are raised in special aqueous solutions before being disposed of, many uncomfortable questions have been raised regarding its ethicality.
Researchers have looked into using adult stem cells instead, but these are less adaptable than embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are less versatile and cannot form into certain types of cells, limiting their therapeutic capacity. Moreover, these cells have the possibility of containing flaws and defects received after replication.
Are pluripotent stem cells currently in use today?
Pluripotent cells have become increasingly important in the field of regenerative medicine for their incredible properties. They have already been used extensively to treat various cancers and blood-related diseases like leukemia and neuroblastoma!
Stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that promotes the regrowth and redevelopment of damaged tissues using stem cells. Stem cells are first raised in a laboratory setting before being implanted into the recipient: for instance, if a person were to have a heart disease, the stem cells would be injected directly into the cardiovascular muscles.
Despite the miraculous nature of these treatments, the processes used to harness stem cells are still flawed and vary in success rates. Scientists must be absolutely certain that the stem cell would differentiate into the desired type of cell, otherwise more problems might be caused as a result. Stem cells are also notorious for irregular growth patterns and differentiating spontaneously, and in most cases, they may not function inside the patient’s body due to a combination of genetic factors or a series of immune responses wherein the stem cells are mistakenly identified as invaders.
As research into stem cells is still ongoing and more new information is being added on a regular basis, its effects in curing otherwise incurable degenerative disease have not yet been fully explored. Many do not doubt that scientists will one day overcome these complications.