Stem cells are the only cells in your body that make different cell types, like blood, bone and muscle cells. They also repair damaged tissue. Now, stem cells are essential blood cancer and blood disorder treatments. Medical researchers believe stem cells also have the potential to treat many other diseases.
If your body were a building, your stem cells would be the foundation. Stem cells are the only cells in your body that can create specialized cells. They can make more than 200 specialized cells, such as blood and bone cells, among the trillions of cells in your body. One stem cell type builds your body. After building your body, another stem cell type serves as maintenance crew teams assigned to specific structures.
Right now, healthcare providers use stem cells’ special qualities to treat blood cancer and blood disorders. Medical researchers are still learning how stem cells work and how stem cell therapies can treat or possibly cure diseases.
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Stem cells do two things that no other cells can do:
Stem cells are important for the work they do to build and maintain your body. More than that, they’re essential to medical research. Researchers study stem cells to:
Healthcare providers may classify stem cell types by the cells’ source or the cells’ function. Most people probably are more familiar with stem cell classification by source:
The process starts with donated adult stem cells. Researchers grow millions of cells with the goal of turning the original adult stem cells into lab-made embryonic cells or pluripotent cells. (Lab-made embryonic cells are like natural embryonic cells, which can turn into any kind of cell.)
Providers may use adult stem cells to replace damaged or abnormal bone marrow stem cells. For example, stem cell transplants to replace stem cells in bone marrow may use donated adult stem cells. Providers use them to treat:
Yes, providers may use stem cells from donated cord blood to treat blood disorders. (Cord blood is the blood that remains in people’s umbilical cords and placenta after they give birth.) Donated cord blood is the only embryonic stem cell treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Your bone marrow — the soft, squishy tissue at the center of some bones — makes stem cells that become blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. White blood cells help fight infection. Platelets manage bleeding. Anything that affects your bone marrow can affect those blood-forming stem cells. Common medical conditions that affect your stem cells include:
There’s no proven way to create and maintain healthy stem cells, but following good healthy habits may help:
You may have read that taking certain vitamins may boost stem cell health or stem cell numbers. Researchers are studying the relationship between certain vitamins and stem cell health but haven’t concluded taking vitamins increase stem cell count.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your body contains trillions of cells. Stem cells stand out among the cellular crowd because they’re the only cell type that replicates itself indefinitely and creates specialized cells that can repair damaged cells. Right now, healthcare providers use stem cell treatments to manage and sometimes cure blood cancers and blood disorders. Medical researchers believe stem cells have the potential to treat and possibly cure many other serious illnesses.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2023.
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