Stem cells or ‘mother cells’ are present in the organism and have the unique capability of transforming into any other cell line depending on the local need or stimulation. For example, stem cells can be transformed into cartilage, heart tissue, hepatic tissue, etc when exposed to the appropriated growth factors.
There are several types of stem cells. Those that can be transformed into any tissue are called totipotent and those that can transform into several tissues are called pluripotent or unipotent if they can transform into one specific cell type.
Stem cell classification
Stem cells are classified in two: embryonic and adult
Embryonic stem cells are responsible for the formation and development of all the organs during the embryonic and foetal phase of development. They are totipotential. At the moment, they can be harvested during foetal live or obtained from the umbilical cord right after birth. Then new lines of cells and tissues can be developed in vitro (in a laboratory) for further use.
Adult stem cells are present in the organism after birth. They objective is to maintain and / or repair tissues when needed or damage. As the individual age, the amount and power of these cells to repair decreases leading to non-reversible tissue damage. . Stem cells can differentiate into a new line of cells as a response to growth factors secreted by several other cells and glands.
The adipose tissue (the fat) is the biggest reservoir of stem cells in the adult, they are known as mesenchymal stem cells and are pluripotent, meaning that can transform into several other cell lines.
Practical use of Stem Cells
Stem cells can be harvested from the adult fat through a very light procedure called liposuction. Harvesting the fat is normally performed under local anaesthesia in an ambulatory basis. The sample of fat is then sent to the Swiss Stem Cell foundation located in Zurich in order to separate the cells from the fatty tissues.
The purified cells can then be stored under a freezing process during ten years.
Use of stem cells,
I believe this is the future in medicine. We can store stem cells in a bank and use them in the future if needed. For example, in the case of undergoing radio and chemotherapy for a cancer, fresh cells can be withdrawal from the frozen storage and used with the help of tissue engineering (a laboratory specialized in stimulation the cells into a new line).
The cells can also be used in association with fat to improve certain skin affections as burns, skin atrophy, scaring, etc. Thanks to research, science is advancing at promissing speed in the use of stem cells.