FACTS: Most cells in the body are experts at specific functions such as generating electrical impulses in the brain, or carrying oxygen through the blood – or digesting your lunch! However, stem cells are very special cells because they have no specialty except to remain ready, willing, and able to become, someday, whatever is needed.
In the first few days of a person’s life, of course, a lot of cellular construction work is required immediately to put you together. Stem cells spring into action, differentiating into the myriad cells that make you who you are. They are called pluripotent because they can differentiate into anything they want.
But like Peter Pan, some of these embryonic stem cells don’t want to be anything but what they are. They refuse to grow up, and choose to remain stem cells even as the adult grows around them.
Most of these adult (or somatic) stem cells do eventually differentiate into specialized cells, though by then their imaginations limit them to becoming cells like the tissue where they live, dutifully repairing any damage that has happened through the course of life.
But some don’t – and scientists would love to get their hooks into them to find out what makes them tick. In fact, scientists have already figured out how to make somatic stem cells more child-like, restoring their pluripotent powers.
Because if cells can really become anything they want, the tantalizing possibility for eternal youth really exists.
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