What are stem cells?
Stem cells can renew themselves millions of times. Other cells in the body, such as muscle and nerve cells, cannot do this. Embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated, meaning they can turn into any type of cell in the body. Tissue-specific stem cells (sometimes called adult or somatic stem cells) arise later in development. They also can replenish cells. The primary role of tissue-specific stem cells is to maintain and repair the tissue in which they’re found.
How do problems in cells lead to disease?
Changes to the genes inside a cell, called mutations, can alter the cell’s ability to divide, make proteins, remove waste, or perform other tasks. These genetic mutations can lead to birth defects, cancer, and other diseases. Cells that are damaged through physical trauma or infection can, in extreme cases, contribute to harmful inflammation and organ malfunction.
How does studying cells aid our understanding of human health and disease?
Learning about how cells work—and what happens when they don’t work properly—teaches us about the biological processes that keep us healthy. It also uncovers new ways to treat disease. Cellular research has already led to cancer treatments, antibiotics, medicine that lowers cholesterol, and improved methods for delivering drugs. However, much more remains to be discovered. For example, understanding how stem cells and certain other cells regenerate could offer insight on how to repair damaged or lost tissue.