Stem cells: What they are and what they do
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are the body's raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells.
These daughter cells become either new stem cells or specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types.
Why is there such an interest in stem cells?
Where do stem cells come from?
Researchers hope stem cell studies can help to:
Increase understanding of how diseases occur. By watching stem cells mature into cells in bones, heart muscle, nerves, and other organs and tissue, researchers may better understand how diseases and conditions develop.
Generate healthy cells to replace cells affected by the disease (regenerative medicine). Stem cells can be guided into becoming specific cells that can be used in people to regenerate and repair tissues that have been damaged or affected by the disease.
People who might benefit from stem cell therapies include those with spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Stem cells may have the potential to be grown to become new tissue for use in transplant and regenerative medicine. Researchers continue to advance their knowledge on stem cells and their applications in transplant and regenerative medicine.
Test new drugs for safety and effectiveness. Before using investigational drugs in people, researchers can use some types of stem cells to test the drugs for safety and quality. This type of testing will most likely first have a direct impact on drug development for cardiac toxicity testing.
New areas of study include the effectiveness of using human stem cells that have been programmed into tissue-specific cells to test new drugs. For the testing of new drugs to be accurate, the cells must be programmed to acquire properties of the type of cells targeted by the drug. Techniques to program cells into specific cells are under study.
For instance, nerve cells could be generated to test a new drug for a nerve disease. Tests could show whether the new drug had any effect on the cells and whether the cells were harmed.
There are several sources of stem cells:
Embryonic stem cells. These stem cells come from embryos that are 3 to 5 days old. At this stage, an embryo is called a blastocyst and has about 150 cells.
These are pluripotent (ploo-RIP-uh-tunt) stem cells, meaning they can divide into more stem cells or can become any type of cell in the body. This versatility allows embryonic stem cells to be used to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs.
Adult stem cells. These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat. Compared with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability to give rise to various cells of the body.
Until recently, researchers thought adult stem cells could create only similar types of cells. For instance, researchers thought that stem cells residing in the bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells.
However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be able to create various types of cells. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create bone or heart muscle cells.
This research has led to early-stage clinical trials to test usefulness and safety in people. For example, adult stem cells are currently being tested in people with neurological or heart disease.
Adult cells are altered to have properties of embryonic stem cells. Scientists have successfully transformed regular adult cells into stem cells using genetic reprogramming. By altering the genes in the adult cells, researchers can reprogram the cells to act similarly to embryonic stem cells.
This new technique may allow the use of reprogrammed cells instead of embryonic stem cells and prevent immune system rejection of the new stem cells. However, scientists don't yet know whether using altered adult cells will cause adverse effects in humans.
Researchers have been able to take regular connective tissue cells and reprogram them to become functional heart cells. In studies, animals with heart failure that were injected with new heart cells experienced improved heart function and survival time.
Perinatal stem cells. Researchers have discovered stem cells in amniotic fluid as well as umbilical cord blood. These stem cells have the ability to change into specialized cells.
Amniotic fluid fills the sac that surrounds and protects a developing fetus in the uterus. Researchers have identified stem cells in samples of amniotic fluid drawn from pregnant women for testing or treatment — a procedure called amniocentesis.
Increasing adult stem cell production
Several studies have found that when glyconutrients are added to the diet, they tend to cause adult stem cell production to increase by a factor of 100. For example, 1 microliter of blood in a person not taking any glyconutrients would contain 4 to 5 stem cells per microliter, whereas the blood of a person using moderate amounts of glyconutrients will contain 400 to 500 per microliter. The implications of this are far-reaching and more study is underway.
Stem cells have the ability to regenerate any other cell in the body. Thus a stem cell can become a neuron, a liver cell, a brain cell, a fingernail cell, etc.
It is no wonder that the research community would like to find out how to increase the body’s natural production of stem cells from the bone marrow where they are made. In a 2003 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group of researchers from John Hopkins Medical Center released a study that donor stem cells had been found to have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Their next question was could these stem cells help to correct problems in the brain by changing themselves into defective brain cells and to promote the growth of new neurons?
At the same time in a separate field of study, Dr. McDaniel from the Fischer Institute had been trying to understand how many patients with neurological disorders began showing improved brain function after their diets were supplemented with glyconutrients and other micronutrients.
The next logical step after this observation was to determine if, in fact, the glyconutrients had anything to do with increasing the production of stem cells. If this could be proved true, as it seemed to be, it would mean that with a diet supplemented with glyconutrients, a person’s body would be capable of creating more stem cells. These stem cells with their inherent knowledge of where they are needed would head to the brain to promote the growth of new neurons to replace the damaged and defective neurons there. In time, this could mean increased and improved brain function in patients suffering from many neurological disorders.
Currently, the scientific community is conducting studies to prove this correlation. However, for those looking for answers now, take a look at the individual case studies where numerous people have found that by adding glyconutrients to their diet they have been able to better their neurological brain function. One study, conducted by Dr. McDaniel, appears to support the theory that glyconutrients dramatically boost adult stem cell production.
To understand why people have such dramatic results after they begin taking glyconutrients, you need to take a look at how and why the body begins the disease process. First of all, glyconutrients are not prescription drugs that are prescribed to “cure” or “treat” any particular condition. They are food. In fact, they are sugars. When you think of sugar, you probably think of the white stuff you put on top of your cereal.
Glycoprotein cell receptors
However, it has been discovered that all of our cells contain sugars at their core. Without these sugars, the cells cannot communicate properly. There are 8 of these known sugars today, but most diets only contain 2 of these sugars. Fortunately, your body can manufacture the other 6 sugars, however, due to stress and other factors; this process can be slowed down or come to a grinding halt. When this happens, cells begin to miss-communicate and the disease process begins.
Once the disease begins, your immune system recognizes something is wrong and tries to defend the body against the disease. As with any war, if your immune system has enough “ammunition” to battle the disease, your body will return to its original state of health. However, if your immune system does not have the ammunition or the proper artillery to handle the disease, the disease begins to get the upper hand, and your health declines.
You may ask yourself where glyconutrients play a role in this disease process. As mentioned before, glyconutrients are not prescription drugs. They are naturally occurring sugars and are found in certain plants. When you add these sugars to your diet, your cells have the necessary components to communicate effectively. It’s this very process that allows your body to win the war against the disease and heal itself. As stated previously, glyconutrients do not cure or treat conditions. Rather, they allow the body to “treat” or defend itself against diseases.
For years, doctors believed that when you ate sugars, they were immediately converted to energy. In fact, some doctors went as far as saying that eating any dietary supplements (such as vitamins purchased at the grocery store) did little or nothing to support cellular communication in your body. As a result, a study was conducted to understand what happened when a person added glyconutrients to their diet to determine whether or not they were converted to energy or absorbed into the body. The study showed that the body did not convert glyconutrients to energy as previously thought. The bottom line is that you can eat glyconutrients and gain significant health benefits.