Stem cells were first discovered in Canada. Dozens of the brightest minds in the field have made dramatic and groundbreaking contributions here. Together they’ve moved the world closer to treatments and cures never imagined. By continuing to support their important work, and to attract gifted scientists from around the world, we will continue to move even closer — and build an entirely new industry of international scope to serve humanity.
Sources of Stem Cells
Much of the public discussion about stem cells has focused on where stem cells come from. Adult stem cells can be found in specific tissues in our bodies. As mature cells, they are already specialized to perform certain functions and are somewhat more limited in their application for therapeutic purposes. Generally, they can make only the kind of cells found in the tissue where they reside.
On the other hand, embryonic stem cells — derived from five-day old blastocysts that are precursors to embryos — are pluripotent in nature. They can generate any kind of cell in the body, any kind of tissue. This is why they are of such value to scientists doing both basic research in the lab and medical research in the clinic. They have the potential to regenerate tissue and cells that have been lost because of disease or injury.
An Unexpected Breakthrough
One of the most unexpected breakthroughs of the past decade was the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells. These are adult stem cells that have been treated — or induced — to revert back to an embryonic-like, or pluripotent, state. By creating pluripotent cells from a patient’s own adult stem cells, there is even greater possibility to treat catastrophic and degenerative diseases, eliminating problems with tissue rejection after implantation.
Stem cells represent a revolution in health care, but we’re still in the early days. Bone marrow stem cell transplantation has been curing some kinds of cancer for decades, but in other potential areas we’ve barely begun scratching the surface.
Much work lies ahead. First, the tireless research that leads to breakthroughs in understanding. Then, the translation of those breakthroughs into practical clinical trials that may change the status of incurable diseases and conditions.
The best and brightest minds, working with support from private and public sources, with collaboration across borders will transform the stem cell dream into a reality that will renew humanity.