Spotlight: What stem cells can and can’t do


Just look at any recent news article regarding stem cells and all of them demonstrate the incredible ongoing research and recent discoveries into these miraculous little cells. From creating technology that enables pioneering stem cell therapies through to growing new organs and tissues from transplanted stem cells. The future uses for stem cells is coming ever closer.

But these medical breakthroughs are only possible due to the hard work and dogged determination by companies, the trailblazing stem cell research company that is leading the way in uncovering new uses for stem cells. 

Just what are stem cells?

But in order to look at the incredible work that stem cells can (and can’t yet) do, let’s delve into what stem cells are. Because stem cells, whilst they’ve been around for as long as there’s been life on earth, are only a relatively recent discovery. 

Stem cells are special cells that have the ability to become any cell in the body, from bone cells to muscle cells to tissue cells. Stem cells, at their creation, are yet to be programmed and as such, potentially hold the key to repairing damaged tissues and potentially treating previously untreatable diseases. Research is even being carried out to determine if stem cells could find a cure for paralysis or even reverse Alzheimer’s disease. 

Stem cells can be divided into two categories: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cells that are used in research come from unused embryos that were created through in vitro fertilisation (these are also known as pluripotent stem cells, meaning they have the capability to go on to become more than just one type of cell). 

The second category, adult stem cells, fall into a further two categories – one type of stem cells come from already formed tissues such as the brain or muscles, but unlike pluripotent stem cells, these stem cells will only go on to form other stem cells of the same kind. I.e. stem cells that come from the brain will only form brain cells, stem cells that come from bone marrow will only form more bone marrow cells. 

The second type of adult stem cell is known as induced pluripotent stem cells (adult stem cells that have been reprogrammed), meaning these are adult stem cells that have been modified in the lab to resemble the capabilities of embryonic stem cells. 

But why all the furore around stem cells? 

What can stem cells do

Research companies and other healthcare professionals are using stem cells to help advance so many different facets of healthcare, for example: 

  • Stem cells are being used to further our understanding as to how and why certain diseases occur such as Huntington’s disease or type-1 diabetes or even spinal cord injuries. By watching stem cells grow in laboratories, scientists are able to gain a better insight into how stem cells mature and develop into certain organs and tissues, and learn when and how diseases occur and what causes them. 
  • Healthy stem cells are being researched for their use in regenerative medicine to replace damaged or diseased stem cells. Pluripotent and induced pluripotent stem cells can both be modified to become the specific stem cells that can replace the unhealthy ones. At present, stem cell transplants (bone marrow transplants) are the only approved use for stem cells in the UK and are used for the treatment of blood and other disorders of the immune system.
  • Stem cells are being used to test new drugs safely before trialling them on people. One such stem cell trial that has made it through to human trials ( ) is one of their innovative treatments Heartcel™, the medicine that the team at Celixir is in the process of developing for investigational cardiac regenerative medicine.

What can’t stem cells do

Whilst there is so much that stem cells can do (and can potentially do), they are still limited in that like most new technologies, they can’t simply show us the future. We have to learn about their potential through research and trials. But luckily for the rest of us, that is just what forward-thinking companies are doing.