There is nothing more frustrating than playing a game of Uno without getting a single wild card in your hand, or playing against someone that seems to get all the wild cards. In fact, if you are a strategic gamer like me, wild cards can be the key to victory. You can only play so many green fives or blue twos before you run out of playable cards. But acquiring a wild card at just the right time can give you the slight edge you needed over your opponents. Wild cards are game changers in the card game world. Similarly, stem cells are game changers in the cellular world.
All living things are made of one or more cells. Cells take on various shapes and sizes, each possessing a unique function to help living things survive. However, cells never stray from their assigned task within a living thing. You cannot pull out a red blood cell from your body and convince it to become a nerve cell. Unlike humans who average about 12 job changes in a lifetime, cells instantly find their dream job and stick to it. But just like humans, cells start out in sort of a preparation phase (more like an educational phase for humans) before they enter their life long careers as specialized cells.
Cells are “stem cells” when they are in their preparation phase. Every living thing starts life as a tiny embryo. These embryos are made of stem cells. Stem cells do not have a specific function for the living thing… yet. As the embryo matures, some stem cells regenerate and produce more stem cells for later use while other stem cells begin to differentiate and become specialized cells with specific functions for the body. In fact, stem cells in the embryo are “pluripotent” and can give rise to any cell type in the fully formed body. This is why I have affectionately called them the “wild cards” of the cellular world. As our bodies grow from infancy to maturity, they keep stem cells in case we get injured and need back cells or our existing cells get old and break down. Once our body has a specific need, the stem cells can differentiate and become the specific cell needed. Get a nasty paper cut and worry you are going to pass out due to extreme blood loss? Not to worry, stem cells can emerge from the bone marrow and differentiate into red blood cells helping to replenish the blood that you lost from the world’s most extreme paper cut.
So why is this so important? Stem cells can be a game changer in the medical world. As humans get older and their cells start dying or develop diseases that threaten specific cell functions, stem cells can make all the difference. With further research into stem cells, they could activate dormant stem cells in the injured or diseased body and help them recover. They could also cause stem cells to differentiate in a lab setting and produce specialized cells for replacement cell therapy. So as frustration sinks in while you continually lose Uno due to a lack of wild cards, you can rest easy knowing your body is chock-full of wild card stem cells waiting to save the day.
Want to learn more about stem cells and current stem cell research? Here is an excellent website I read for fun and used to help me write this post: https://www.closerlookatstemcells.org/learn-about-stem-cells/
Science Word of the Week: “Pluripotent“– The ability of immature cells, or stem cells, to give rise to several different cell types within the mature organism.
If you read this whole blog post, you are my hero! Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave me a comment and feedback below. Also, let me know if there is any particular science topic you would like me to look at “through green tinted glasses” and I will write about it.