Faq, Frequently asked questions

What is a stem cell?

A stem cell is a cell that by renewing can produce new stem cells and differentiate into other types of cells. All the cells of the body originate from stem cells. Read more about different types of stem cells.

Are there stem cells in me?

Yes. Without the constant renewal of tissue cells by stem cells, humans would die within a few weeks. Tissues that are renewed quickly by stem cells are for example the skin or the intestine. Read more about tissue stem cells.  

Are all stem cells the same?

No. Stem cells are different depending on their origin and ability to differentiate, or change, into different specialized cells. Some stem cells can in the embryo, and theoretically also in the laboratory, differentiate into all types of cells. Other stem cells can differentiate into only one type of cell. Read more about stem cell plasticity or capacity to change. Stem cells are divided into three main types: embryonic stem cells, tissue stem cells and iPS cells. Read more about different types of stem cells.

What’s the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells have the capability to differentiate into all cells of the body, for example into nerve cells, muscle cells or skin cells. Adult stem cells, or tissue stem cells, are present in nearly all tissues of both children and adults. They can differentiate only in a certain direction, for example into the cells of one organ. Read more about embryonic stem cells and tissue stem cells or adult stem cells.

What are the different types of stem cells?

Stem cells are divided into three main types: embryonic stem cells (ES cells), tissue stem cells and iPS cells. Read more about different types of stem cells.

What’s an iPS cells?                                                                                      

An iPS cell is a pluripotent stem cells that is generated in the laboratory by reprogramming for example a skin cell. Read more about iPS cells.

Where do stem cells come from?

Embryonic stem cells are derived from a few day old embryos, that are left over from infertility treatments. iPS cells are cells that are reprogrammed in the laboratory from a donor’s skin or blood cells. Tissue stem cells are derived from human tissues. Blood stem cells, which are used a lot in stem cell treatments, are derived form a donor’s bone marrow, circulation or placental blood. Scientists also often use tissue stem cells from animals for research. Read more about the origins and use of stem cells.   

Where do adult stem cells come from?

Adult stem cells, or tissue stem cells, are present in nearly all our tissues. Many types of adult stem cells, that have been isolated from human tissue biopsies, can be grown as 3D organoids in the laboratory. It’s difficult to obtain these valuable cells from humans so scientists often use tissue stem cells from animals, such as mice, for research purposes. Read more about stem cell research

When will stem cell research lead to new treatments?

New treatments are based on carefully conducted basic research and controlled clinical trials. Thus, the progress from discovery to a new treatment usually takes a very long time. Before a new treatment can be accepted it must be scientifically proven to be effective compared to placebo treatment. In addition, the treatment can never be allowed to cause more harm than benefit for example due to side effects. Stem cell research is still a young area of biology, but big breakthroughs have been made during the last 20 years. It is possible that stem cell treatments against many diseases will proceed to clinical trials in the next few years. Read more about future stem cell treatments.

For what disease are stem cell treatments available?

Stem cell treatments are often used to treat leukemia, or cancer of the blood, other forms of cancer and blood disease. In these cases, the transplanted cells are blood stem cells that are derived from a donor’s bone marrow, blood circulation or placental blood. In the EU it’s also possible to get stem cell treatments for injuries in the cornea of the eye. In addition, there are experimental stem cell treatments against many diseases. These treatments have not yet been proven to be safe or effective. Read more about current stem cell treatments.

Is stem cell therapy performed in Finland?

Stem cell treatments with blood stem cells, for example bone marrow transplants, are performed in Finland to treat different cancers and blood disease. Skin transplants, where stem cells of the transplanted skin renew skin that for example has been severely burned, are also performed in Finland. Other stem cell treatments come to Finland after they have been proven effective and safe in clinical trials and gotten approved by the EU. Read more about stem cell treatments.

Have embryonic stem cells been used in treatment of disease?

Treatments that use embryonic stem cells or iPS cells have been tested in clinical trials but no treatment that is based on the use of embryonic stem cells or iPS cells is in extensive use in any country to date. In other words, not a single one of these treatments has been shown to be effective and safe enough. Read more about the use of embryonic stem cells and iPS cells in future stem cell treatments.

Is it possible to repair spinal cord injuries with stem cells?

Not yet. It is extremely important to use the right sort of cells in stem cell treatments. The cells must have the capability to differentiate into the cell type needed, into nerve cells if considering a spinal cord injury. If the cells used in a treatment have the capacity to transform into undesired cells, such as fat cells or tumour cells, the procedure would likely cause more harm than good for the patient. Results from animal tests and a few early clinical trials have encouraged further research. It is possible that spinal cord injuries and paralysis could be treated with stem cell therapy in the future. Read more about future stem cell treatments.

I have donated blood/placental blood/bone marrow. Does this mean that my stem cells are stored somewhere and could be used in the future?

The blood circulation hardly contains any stem cells. Instead, for example red blood cells and plasma is used from donated blood to treat patients that have gone through surgery or suffer from a disease. It’s possible to isolate blood stem cells from the circulating blood if the donor has received growth factor injections, that result in blood stem cells migrating to the circulation. If you are a member of the stem cell registry and have donated blood stem cells from the bone marrow or the blood after growth factor injections, the stem cells have likely been used immediately in the care of another person since donors are only called to a stem cell donation when a matching patient has been identified. Blood stem cells are also present in placental blood and during the years 1999-2013 the Finnish blood service collected placental blood from volunteer women after giving birth. The white blood cells and blood stem cells were isolated from the placental blood and deep frozen. The placental blood transplants are still preserved so if you have donated placental blood it’s possible that the cells have already been used to treat a patient or are still being stored and could be used in the future. Storing of cells and other human biological material is only possible if the donor has given consent. More information, blood service and bio banks.   

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