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A stem cell is a cell which has the ability to continuously divide and develop into various tissues and other cells. Unlike mature cells, stem cells do not develop into one specific type of tissue, but retain the ability to divide and create various tissues, making them a primary source of tissue renewal and repair. A number of companies worldwide have become involved in different aspects of stem cell technology. Some stem cell companies specialize in stem cell retrieval and storage, others develop stem cell chains to sell for research or development, and biopharmaceutical companies use stem cells to try to develop medications and treatment for specific diseases. Some companies have begun treating patients with various degenerative diseases with stem cell transplants.
Some stem cell companies specialize in the development of embryonic stem cells. These are generally obtained by fertilizing a human egg, usually in vitro, and letting the embryo develop for four or five days. The stem cells are then removed from the embryo and grown in a culture dish. Significant controversy surrounds embryonic stem cell research because it involves the creation, growth and then destruction of a human embryo. Some researches see great potential in the ability of embryonic cells to develop into all cell types, yet there is also concern about their unstable nature of growth and the potential for harm that kind of growth can cause.
Other stem cell companies have opted to only work with adult stem cells and avoid the ethical controversy. One of the most potentially versatile adult stem cell comes from bone marrow. While it is reasonable to expect bone marrow stem cells to create a variety of blood cells, in experiments with animals, these cells have successfully developed muscle cells, and appear to be affective in treating muscular dystrophy in mice. Another reason many stem cell companies prefer adult stem cells is that they are less likely to result in uncontrolled growth and tumor development than embryonic stem cells.
The treatment of degenerative disease is the primary purpose for stem cell research. Stem cell companies are currently using adult stem cells to develop treatments for a variety of diseases. Bone marrow transplants, which are essentially stem cell treatments, have been used for years as a treatment for leukemia. Bone marrow cells are currently being used in test trials with patients suffering from bone defects. Osteoarthritis, cartilage regeneration and degenerative disc disease are also targets for bone marrow stem cell research.
Other stem cell companies focus on obtaining adult stem cells from a variety of sources, including umbilical cord, placenta blood, baby teeth, and various adult tissues. Numerous companies have opened throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Asia which specialize in stem cell collection and research. Many countries, like the US, have extremely stringent requirements for safety and effectiveness before a drug or treatment can be authorized. Other countries have allowed stem cell companies to begin using stem cell injections to treat members of the general public for a variety of conditions.