Stem Cell FAQs
STEM CELL FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
THE PROMISE OF STEM CELLS
Stem cells can develop into different cell types. They may offer a renewable source of replacement cells to treat diseases, conditions, and disabilities.
1. WHAT DOES THE STEM CELL INSTITUTE DO?
The University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute (SCI), the first such institute in the United States, studies the basic biology of how stem cells work. The SCI faculty works in collaboration with many other areas in the University to lay the foundation for safe and effective treatments using stem cells. The SCI performs research and does not treat patients directly.
2. WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?
Cells are categorized as “stem” cells when they have the ability, as they divide and reproduce, to generate cells of several different types. The Stem Cell Institute works with many different types of stem cells. Stem cells can be “pluripotent” (able to generate any type of cell found in the body), “multipotent” (able to generate a limited number of different cell types), or oligopotent (able to generate two or more cell types within a specific tissue).
3. WHAT TYPES OF STEM CELLS ARE STUDIED?
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are created by taking adult cells and reprogramming them to express genes that are active in stem cells until they again have the potential to develop into different types of cells. In this way, iPSCs made from adult skin cells could be used not only to repair the skin, but to repair a damaged heart muscle or liver. This technology is extensively in use at the University of Minnesota and is thought to be a highly promising option for many different patient therapies. An important potential advantage of using a patient’s own cells for treatment is that bodies do not reject their own cells. This reduces the risk and increases the possible effectiveness of using these cells.
Adult stem cells, found in the blood, bone marrow, muscle, and organs (for example, the brain, liver, and skin), are multipotent and part of the body’s system to maintain and repair itself. Their ability to generate different cell types is usually limited to the type of tissue in which they are found.
Hematopoietic stem cells (blood-forming, multipotent) are present in bone marrow, circulating blood, and umbilical cord blood. These cells have been transplanted for over 40 years in order to help patients who suffer from devastating bone marrow and blood diseases (such as severe aplastic anemia and types of leukemia) and some genetic conditions (such as Fanconi anemia). These cells are donated for a specific patient’s use by people who undergo a minor surgical procedure to remove them from the bone marrow or apheresis (a system that filters selected cells from the circulating blood). Umbilical cord blood cells are donated shortly after birth and removed from tissue that is otherwise discarded.
Embryonic stem cells are truly pluripotent and as such, offer unique windows into the incredibly complex systems of cell and body development. Both animal and human embryonic stem cells are studied. All research on human cells at the University of Minnesota is performed using cell lines that were generated from fertilized, frozen eggs created for in-vitro fertilization and donated by people who wanted the eggs to support medical research rather than be discarded. These “cell lines” were created a number of years ago and are limited and regulated by the government. No state or US government funds are used for this research; it is entirely funded by private donations. We understand that human embryonic research is a controversial and sensitive matter and welcome civil dialogue about the legal, ethical, and moral issues of this research. All new research proposals using human embryonic cell lines must be approved by the human Embryonic Stem Cell and human embryo Research Oversight (ESCRO) committee. This committee has been set up in accordance with National Research Council guidelines to ensure that proposed research meets high standards for scientific merit and ethical justification before it can begin.
4. WHAT MEDICAL CONDITIONS MAY BE TREATED WITH STEM CELL THERAPY?
- Brain and spinal cord injury
- Heart disease
- Retinal disorders
- Inherited diseases
5. I AM (OR A FAMILY MEMBER OR FRIEND IS) AFFECTED BY A CONDITION THAT MIGHT BE TREATABLE WITH STEM CELL THERAPY. HOW DO I FIND OUT ABOUT THE MOST UP-TO-DATE RESEARCH?
The University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute is in the process of creating disease-specific patient and family advisory groups. You can participate by joining a group. Participation can be simple as receiving emails to responding to anonymous surveys to attending annual meetings. Information on how to join these groups will be posted early in 2014.
Click on this link to get information about current clinical trials.
6. HOW CAN I HELP?
You can help fund research, for example by supporting research on a specific disease or condition. Click here for information about making a donation.
7. I AM A MEMBER OF THE MEDIA, HOW CAN I GET INFORMATION OR EXPERT OPINIONS?
Media Contact: Caroline Marin 612-624-5680. Questions are referred directly to the Director of the Stem Cell Institute or to the scientist/physician with the most applicable knowledge and research.
8. WHAT IF I STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?
- We would love to know what they are so that we can answer them and consider adding them to our FAQs. Please send your questions to the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute directly by email: SCIfirstname.lastname@example.org.
- Click on this link for The National Institutes of Health's excellent website.