Task 7

Stem & Cancer Cells, what you need to know…

What Are Cancer Cells?
Cancer cells are cells that grow and divide at an unregulated, quickened pace. Although cancer cells can be quite common in a person they are only malignant when the other cells (particularly natural killer cells) fail to recognize and/or destroy them.

Cancer cells are different to normal cells in several ways:

  • They don’t die if they move to another part of the body
  • Cancer cells don’t stop reproducing
  • Cancer cells don’t obey signals from other cells
  • Cancer cells don’t stick together
  • Cancer cells don’t specialise, but stay immature

What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are the body’s raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialised 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 either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or bone. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types.

Where Do Stem Cells Come From?
There are several sources of stem stells including:

  • Embryonic stem cells – These stem cells come from embryos that are three to five days old
  • 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.
  • Adult cells altered to have properties of embryonic stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) – scientists have successfully transformed regular adult cells into stem cells using genetic reprogramming.
  • Perinatal stem cells – Researchers have discovered stem cells in amniotic fluid in addition to umbilical cord blood stem cells. These stem cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells.

How Stem Cells Can Be Used?

Stem cells can be guided into becoming specific cells that can be used to regenerate and repair diseased or damaged tissues in people.

People who might benefit from stem cell therapies include those with spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, 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 the knowledge on stem cells and their applications in transplant and regenerative medicine.