ThedaCare Health Matters

Looking at stem cells in healthcare

Most people have probably heard about stem cells. Stem cells and stem cell research is a fascinating topic with immense potential for treatment of disease. Currently, stem cells are successfully used for certain limited indications. However, people need to be careful to seek accepted treatments and protocols and be wary of misrepresentation and misuse of advertised “stem cell therapy.”

So what is a stem cell? Technically speaking, a stem cell is a cell that has the ability to reproduce and differentiate into more specific cell lines and tissues.

The easiest way to think about this is to recognize when human life begins a sperm cell fertilizes an egg. Each carries 23 chromosomes that combine to form 23 pairs for a total of 46. These chromosomes lay the blueprint for the development of the individual and determine things such as gender or height and skin color. As this one cell starts dividing, it forms lines of cells that have the potential to become nerve tissue, bone, solid organs (like the liver or kidneys) that are able to function together and form a healthy baby.

As the cells divide and become more differentiated, they tend to lose the ability to make further changes and end up as a mature, highly specialized cell with a certain role to play in the fully formed individual.

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