We have known about stem cells for a long time. We knew they are the building blocks of life even as far back as the 19th century. There are almost 40 trillion and 200 different types of them in our small body. They are unique from other cells in the sense that they are unspecialised, can proliferate and renew and can differentiate into any specialised cells.
Many discoveries relating to stem cells have been made since our first awareness of their existence eg. the first bone marrow transplant in the 1960s; discovery of their presence in human cord blood in the 1970s; the first stem cell line developed in the laboratory from mice and from a hamster in the 1980s; and in the 1990s, the first stem cell line from a primate; a cloned lamb from stem cells; development of the first embryonic stem cell lines and from foetal gonads, and in 2000, the production of different cell types from mice stem cells.
There are three types of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells from embryos can differentiate into almost any specialised cells. Adult stem cells are present in bone marrow, brain and blood, and the third type are derived from cord blood and has the most potential in the treatment of diseases.
Stem cells have been used to treat leukemia via marrow transplant. They may also be helpful in the treatment of stroke, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and many other ailments.
Babies’ umbilical cord and placenta are rich in stem cells which have life-saving potential. These cells can now be stored in stem cell banks which can be used to treat many diseases for the child and family, now and in future. More than 35,000 cord blood transplants are done globally and the potential is enormous.
Stem cell research is progressing rapidly with new discoveries annually. There is increasing potential of new uses of stem cells therapy which will benefit mankind in years to come.
This article is contributed by Stemlife Berhad.Written by: PROFESSOR DR HASHIM MD. TAHIR Professor in O & G MBBS (University of Queensland, Australia) 1980 MRCOG (London) 1987 AM (Malaysia) 1995