A stem cell is a special cell found either in the adult human body or inside an embryonic cell. Stem cell research is a relatively new field of study in molecular biology. Stem cells are currently used in bone marrow transplants, blood and cancer treatments. Another use is applying stem cells to back injury therapy.
One idea is to use stem cells to replenish or re-grow a severed spinal cord.
“It would not be unlikely to say that we could heal spinal cord injuries in the near future,” said Dr. Jim Moodie, a COCC instructor and biologist.
According to Moodie, stem cells are special because “they have not yet decided what they want to be.”
Embryonic cells are plastic, malleable and capable of being manipulated to grow into any other type of cell. Adult stem cells do not have as much plasticity as the embryonic cell.
“Embryonic stem cells are produced when a newly fertilized egg begins to divide. These stem cells can become any type of cell in the body,” according to the American Medical Association website.
“Stem cells are also found in bone marrow,” said Nathan Hovekamp, a COCC biology instructor. “The way I understand it is researchers are currently at a stage of modifying the genes of this bone marrow cell in its second stage of development back into an unspecialized first stage embryonic cell.”
The genes located inside stem cells, however, must be “turned on” in order for the stem cell to grow the desired cell.
Researchers could apply stem cell therapy to grow back a torn leg muscle once scientists figure out how to turn on these genes.
There are occasionally setbacks to stem cell funding, as the government has occasionally stopped stem cell research funding.
“About six years ago, in the 2000s, funding and support from the government kind of stopped. However, since then, they seemed to have started funding again and research is progressing again,” Hovekamp said.
Controversies can slow down the research and stop funding.
“The controversy is whether or not an embryonic cell is considered an individual,” said Hovekamp.
“In the last year we have been able to stimulate skin cells using stem cells,” said Moodie.
More research on stem cells is currently underway.