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What are Stem Cells?

The very question “What are Stem Cells?” has created ripples in the scientific community, and managed to spread its wings throughout the non-scientific part of globe marking a position for itself in the life of common man. So what is so intriguing about these cells? In simple words, they are the ‘Raw Materials’ of the human body with three unique characteristics. These include:

1. Stem cells are “Unspecialized”, i.e., these cells are not specialized to perform specific functions within the body, unlike a skin cell which has a defined task to accomplish.

2. Stem cells have mastered the ability to Self-regenerate or Self-renew. This attribute helps them to divide into daughter cells and produce huge number of copies of themselves even after remaining inactive for long-periods. In contrast, skin cells for example can regenerate only for certain set time period.

3. The unspecialized stem cells have the capacity to form specialized cells such as skin or muscle or nerve etc through a process called “Differentiation”. These differentiated cells replace the worn out and dead cells in damaged parts of few tissues.

The basic classification divides stem cells into Embryonic stem cells and Adult stem cells. Now that we got an insight into “What are stem Cells?”, lets look into the different sources of stem cells from which they originate. Embryonic stem cells are extracted from 4-6 days old embryos that are ready to attach themselves to the uterus for further development in the womb. On the other hand, adult stem cells are spread out within the human body in the stages after embryonic development inside several organs.

Stem cells are isolated and grown in laboratory by providing suitable conditions (similar to the ones in the human body). Research in this field has ignited many new ideas that might be the solutions for dreadful diseases such as cancer in the near future.

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