Stem Cells - Embryonic, Adult & Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Stem Cells are an important component of medical research across the globe. Researchers believe that these stem cells could solve many major ailments. With the help of advancements in the field of stem cells, there are recent examples of paralytic people having regained partial motor skills. This topic would be of importance in the IAS Exam for both Prelims and Mains.

What is a Cell?

  1. A cell is the building block of our body. It is the smallest structural and functional unit of the body.
  2. There are different types of specialized cells that perform different functions.
  3. Human beings are estimated to have 100 trillion cells and more than 200 different types of cells (liver cells, skin cells, muscle cells, etc).

What are Stem Cells?

Special human cells that have the capability to develop into wide-ranging types of cells in the human body, from muscle cells to brain cells, are called stem cells.

What are the 2 unique properties of Stem Cells?

A stem cell is an immature or unspecialized cell that can

  1. Split to form similar cells
  2. Develop into different specialized cells that perform a distinct function.

What are the Different Types of Stem Cells?

Stem cells are classified into 2 main categories –

  1. Classification based on the formation of cells at different phases of human lives and
  2. Classification based on its ability to form into different specialized cells.

Classification based on Stem Cells formation at different times of human lives

There are 3 types under this classification

  1. Embryonic stem cells
  2. Adult stem cells
  3. Induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSC’s

What are Embryonic Stem cells?

These are the Stem cells that exist only during the earliest stage of development.

What are Adult Stem Cells?

  1. These are the cells that can multiply when there is a need to repair adult organs and tissues.
  2. These cells are present in almost all organs of the human body.
  3. They are multipotent i.e. they can give rise to a limited number of mature cell types, usually corresponding to the tissues in which they reside. A most well-known example is the blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells from bone marrow that give rise to different blood cells in our body.
  4. Some tissue-specific stem cells can only give rise to one or two mature cell types and are called unipotent and bipotent, respectively. Stem cells found in the skin produce new skin cells and are an example of unipotent stem cells.

What are induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC’s)?

  1. These cells are not found in the body but made in the laboratory from cells of the body.
  2. The iPSC cells have properties similar to those of embryonic stem cells.
  3. Human iPSC’s were generated in 2007.

Classification based on Stem cells ability to develop into different specialized cells

There are 3 types under this classification

  1. Totipotent stem cells
  2. Pluripotent stem cells
  3. Multipotent stem cells

What are Totipotent Stem Cells?

These Stem Cells can transform into all kinds of cells in the human body.

What are Pluripotent Stem Cells?

These Stem Cells can transform themselves into any type of cell in the human body except those kinds that are required to support and develop a fetus in the womb. ESC’s and iPSC’s are pluripotent stem cells.

What are Multipotent Stem Cells?

These can give rise to only a few distinct types of cells.

Use of stem cells in the Medical field

The only stem cells currently used to treat disease are hematopoietic stem cells. These are blood cells forming adult stem cells found in the bone marrow.

Researchers believe that stem cells would be able to treat a multitude of ailments like

  1. Heart disease
  2. Type 1 diabetes
  3. Spinal cord injury
  4. Alzheimer’s disease
  5. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Stem Cell Therapy in India

There is no law to regulate the use of stem cells in India. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued guidelines that recognize stem cell therapies only for certain treatments and observes that other types of treatments are unproven and should not be offered as therapy.

The Health Ministry had sought to change the rules by amending the law.

Which is the law that regulates the use and approval of drugs in India?

The law that regulates the use and approval of drugs in India is the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

Currently does stem cells come under the category of drugs?

At present stem cells are not classified as drugs in India. If the Drugs and Cosmetics Act is amended by the Government then stem cells will be classified as Drugs and it will come under the jurisdiction of ‘Drugs Controller General of India.’ However in the proposed amendment stem cells that are ‘minimally manipulated’ are excluded from the definition of a new drug.

What is ‘minimally manipulated’ stem cell?

Stem cells are minimally manipulated, meaning they are subjected to minimal manipulation when stem cells are taken from an individual, subjected to minor procedures like rinsing, cleaning and resizing and do not undergo any other processing steps that may alter their function before being implanted into the same individual.

Does India undertake stem cell research? Does the Government of India support the research?

Yes, India carries out stem cell research. The government of India has been supporting the research through funding agencies like the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). This has resulted in the establishment of state of the art infrastructure at over 40 premier health research and education institutions.

Are there guidelines governing stem cell research in India?

The guidelines are given in the National Guidelines for Stem Cell Research (NGSCR-2013).

Candidates can refer to the Topic-Wise UPSC GS 3 Questions for UPSC Mains, by visiting the given link.

The above details would be of help to candidates preparing for UPSC 2020 exams from the perspective of mains examination.

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