Knowing what stem cells actually are helps understand how they could help treat various diseases like arthritis, autism, cancer and diabetes in humans and animals especially dogs and horses.
Differentiation & Specialization
Most forms of life grow from a single cell through the process of division. If the future demands of life are complex, then that single cell cannot simply divide and duplicate itself. For example in a human body there are about 37 trillion cells. Can you imagine if all these cells were identical? If that was the case, you would not have brains, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, skin, hands, feet, muscles or bones. As the cells divide, at some some point they change into something different than the original cell. This is the process of differentiation.
But being different without serving a purpose is not the way of life. Each differentiation serves a purpose. Some cells change to contract and serve as muscles, others change to carry complex electrical signals and communicate with each other to work as a unit, these are your serve as your nerves and brain cells, and anther group band together and hardens to create your bones. Each differentiation serves a purpose, it is specialized.
Some cells are closer in structure and ability to the original cell in the way that they are not yet differentiated or specialized. They have cell potency. These are stem cells. Other cells can stem from them.
Totipotency vs Multipotency
When a cell has the potential to create any number of various cells within and organism, for example a liver for a cancer patient, or a neural stem cells for a blind person, it has Totipotency. It is different than multipotency which is the potential of a cell to divide into different cells but in the same category. For example making different types of cell for blood and blood only but not brains or skin. Multipotent stem cells have lesser ability.
Sleeping vs Active Potency
Some cells like those in an embryo have clear indication of potency. They have totipotency, they are actively involved in the process of division, duplication, differentiation and specialization. This does not mean other cells who are not so obviously stem cells do not have the potential to revert back to their original state of totipotency or multipotency. I call this sleeping potency.
Since taking stem cells from an embryo to me is not ethical and neither is standing by and watching a person suffer and die from diabetes, the ability to awaken the totipotency in the cells that on the surface do no seem to have any will serve satisfy most ethical questions and help those who suffer.
Let me give you an example. Imagine that your girls has type one diabetes and her body cannot create insulin. Besides the health and mortality risks, she will have to get daily injections of insulin. What if it was possible for her to use some of her own skin cells, awaken their original potency to differentiate, specialize and become insulin producing cells so she can have a longer, healthier life without the daily monitoring and poking of needles?
That process of reawakening is called inducing stem cells.
Hematopoietic Stem Cells
Hemopoiesis is formation of blood or blood cells in the body. Hematopoietic stem cells have the ability to form blood cells. Blood and immune disorders like cancer are the primary beneficiaries of this research. When hematopoietic stem cells are transplanted into patients, they help the patients make their own healthy blood cells. In some recent studies hematopoietic stem cells show the ability to also form muscles, blood vessels and even bone