ZocdocAnswersHow are stem cells used?

Question

How are stem cells used?

There is so much fuss about stem cells - what can doctors actually do with them? All the corporate media ever reports is how stem cells will ""help in the fight against"" some disease, but how? Are they actually this promising or couldn't it just be a wild goose chase?

Answer

Stem cells are used now in medical care. There is also great promise regarding their potential use in the future. If you have a condition that you are trying to research, I encourage you to talk to your doctor to discuss specifics in your area of interest. Stem cells are cells that can divide and grow into any cell in the body. They are the ultimate cell to regenerate any specific part of the body. Right now, stem cells are used to develop different blood cells. In leukemia and lymphomas (blood cell cancer) they are extensively used. They are also used in autoimmune disease (like lupus) or blood diseases (like sickle cell) although this is more rare. What happens is that the patient with the disease is given very high dose chemotherapy and radiation. This kills a lot of the abnormal blood cells, but also kills all of the regular blood cells. The person would die without blood cells. But what happens is that stem cells are given to the patient and they go into the bone marrow and develop new blood cells for the patient. These new blood cells then kill whatever bad cells that are left. This is used commonly. The hope is that in the future that we can not only replace someone's blood cells, but also other organs--like a heart or a liver. This is not done now.

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