Stem cells are a category of cells which carries a potential to give rise to new cells as well as specialize later to perform certain specialized task in human body. Under favorable conditions, these cells multiply and give rise to number of other cells known as daughter cells. Other than stem cells, there is no other cell in the body which could give rise to new cells. The newly generated cells either specialize to perform a specific function or remain as a new stem cell. On specialization (differentiation) these cells could become brain cells, blood cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells. Let us understand in detail what is a stem cell and what makes it special?

Sources/Types of stem cells
There are two main types of stem cells. The two types are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells which can be explained as under:
1.    Embryonic stem cells: The embryonic stem cells are used in research today and they come from unused embryos. These cells are the outcomes from an in-vitro fertilization procedure and they are donated to science. These are pluripotent. It means that they can either transform to perform certain function of multiply to generate more stem cells.
2.    Adult stem cells: Adult stem cells are generated in bone marrow. These cells are comparatively less in number as well as carry a limited to generate new different type of cells.  
3.    Perinatal stem cells: These cells are found in the amniotic fluid and blood present in the umbilical cord. These cells have the ability to transform into specialized cells, but more researches are required to understand the potential of perinatal stem cells.

What is special about stem cells?
Researchers and doctors believe that stem cell can help studies in the following ways:
●    Stem cells help in understanding of how diseases take place in the body: Stem cells mature into cells which are present in the bones, heart muscle, nerves and tissue of our body. With the help of stem cell studies, doctors and researchers are trying to get a better understanding on ‘how diseases and conditions develop’.
●    Stem cells generate healthy cells by replacing the diseased cells (regenerative medicine): Stem cells can become certain types of cells. Thus, it can be used to repair diseased or damaged tissues in patients suffering from certain diseases. Therefore, researchers are trying to understand the regenerative potential of these cells under different circumstances to finally use them for regenerative medicine.
People with spinal cord injuries, type-1 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer and osteoarthritis might be benefited from stem cell therapies. Stem cells may have the potential to be grown into new tissue and these can be used in transplant and regenerative medicine.

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What is a stem cell?