Ancient systems of medicine focused on the patients as whole people. The doctors of those systems strove to foster excellent health through correcting imbalances and restoring internal harmony. Conventional allopathic medicine, on the other hand, tends to focus on body parts, diseases, and managing symptoms.

But an emerging form of medicine is incorporating the ancient idea that a person cannot just cope with a disease, but actually experience radiant health and longevity. The new science of stem cells therapy has the potential to help people restore and maintain health in ways that were inconceivable just a few decades ago.

What Is a Stem Cell?

Stem cells are the undifferentiated master cells within any organism. Most cells within the body have specific programmed tasks, such as the particular cells of the pancreas that secrete insulin or nerve cells that communicate information from the brain to the fingers.

Stem cells, on the other hand, have not yet been specialized. They are like blank keys in the hardware store waiting to be told what doors they will need to open. Stem cells respond to conditions in the body or laboratory to either produce more stem cells or produce differentiated cells with particular tasks.

Types of Stem Cells

Their level of differentiation and their source characterizes stem cells. Embryonic stem cells come from blastocysts, embryos that are three to five days old. They are pluripotent stem cells, which means they can divide into more stem cells (self-replicate), or become any type of cell depending on the conditions surrounding them.

Adult stem cells exist in most parts of the body, though they are relatively rare, and they decrease in numbers as we age. The highest concentrations of stem cells in adults are in the bone marrow, blood, and adipose tissue.

Most adult stem cells belong to a particular organ or system, and can only create daughter cells of that same type. For example, neural stem cells only produce cells that relate to the brain and neurological system in the body. But recent research has indicated that stem cells from one part of the body can be directed to produce cells for a different organ or system through laboratory manipulation.

How Are Stem Cells Used in Medicine?

Stem cells have many important applications in contemporary medicine. They are helping doctors understand the maturation process of cells. As the researchers observe the stem cells develop into specialized cells, they are learning from the differentiation process. This will help them understand how mutations, illnesses, birth defects, cancer, and other conditions develop. One day this may mean that doctors can prevent the development of defects and diseases at the cellular level, or stop them before they have a chance to become life threatening.

Stem cell research is also being used to test experimental pharmaceuticals. Researchers can use stem cells to determine if a new drug is safe for a particular organ, and if it will behave in the way the researchers intend.

And stem cells are being explored in clinical trials to determine their ability to catalyze regeneration in damaged areas of the body. They are already being used for blood disorders like leukemia. And there is promising evidence that stem cells may be effective for treating and even healing spinal cord injuries, heart disease, cornea conditions, brain damage caused by stroke, Parkinsons disease, and many forms of cancer.

These investigations are still in the beginning, exploratory stages, and very few stem cell therapies have been approved for widespread use in most countries. But there is a lot of hope in the regenerative medicine community about the potential of these therapies to transform the entire way we think about the body and healing.

Who Can Benefit from Stem Cell Therapy?

At the moment, stem cell therapy is most effective and available for people with blood disorders, damaged corneas, or in need of skin grafts or organ transplants. But with the prevalence of research all over the world, it is very likely that developments will be made in the areas of heart health, type 1 diabetes, Alzheimers disease, osteoarthritis, cancer, and many other conditions.

Stem cell therapy is part of the emerging field known as regenerative medicine. Unlike conventional allopathic medicine that is concerned primarily with treating symptoms, managing pain, and slowing the dying process, regenerative medicine is seeking to actually heal disease and improve quality of life.

One day, it may possible to heal or prevent altogether diseases that are considered incurable today. Using the bodys own capacity for self-renewal could allow us to experience a level of health and quality of life that seems almost fantastical. Modern technology and innovative thinking combined with a holistic perspective and ancient wisdom may allow us to live in the way our ancestors had hoped, as healthy and vibrant beings.


Mayo Clinic
National Institutes of Health