The term “adult stem cell” is misleading because these stem cells are also found in babies, children and even in umbilical cord blood. Adult stem cells can be obtained from many parts of the body, including bone marrow, brain, blood, skin, eye, muscle, liver and hair. It is currently believed that they are likely to be present in most of the body’s tissues and organs, even if they have not yet been found. Their job is to replace and replenish cells that are continuously lost to disease and every day wear and tear. A good example of the type of tissue repair guaranteed by adult stem cells is the healing process of skin cuts and scrapes.
When stem cell research first came to public attention in the late 1990s most of the non-embryonic research success had not yet been published. At that time, researchers told people that the best sources of cures would be embryonic stem cells, and that nobody valued a tiny embryo over a sick child. The media too played its part in promoting embryonic stem cells as the body’s repair kit, and helped to create a belief that these cells could be used to cure a range of diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries. Now, the growing weight of scientific evidence is beginning to discount this idea that embryonic stem cells are the answer, and former supporters of embryonic stem cell research are now favouring adult stem cells as the method of choice for treating degenerative diseases.
Adult stem cells have been isolated from numerous tissues, umbilical cord, and other non-embryonic sources, and have demonstrated surprising ability to transform into other tissue and cell types and to repair damaged tissues. Adult stem cells have been successful in treating up to 73 different conditions, while not a single successful treatment has come from the use of embryonic stem cells. For this reason, most biotech companies are not engaging in embryonic stem cell research, and not because of ethical problems, but because adult stem cells seem more likely to provide effective medical treatments to suffering patients.