What are Stem cells


Stem cells are the body’s raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells.
These daughter cells either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types.

Why is there such an interest in stem cells?

Researchers and doctors hope stem cell studies can help to:
Generate healthy cells to replace diseased cells (regenerative medicine). Stem cells can be guided into becoming specific cells that can be used to regenerate and repair diseased or damaged tissues in people.
People who might benefit from stem cell therapies include those with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer and osteoarthritis among others.

Where do stem cells come from?

Researchers have discovered several sources of stem cells:
Embryonic stem cells. These stem cells come from embryos that are three to five days old. At this stage, an embryo is called a blastocyst and has about 150 cells.
Adult stem cells. These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat. Compared with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability to give rise to various cells of the body.
Perinatal stem cells. Researchers have discovered stem cells in amniotic fluid as well as umbilical cord blood. These stem cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells.
What are stem cell lines and why do researchers want to use them?
A stem cell line is a group of cells that all descend from a single original stem cell and are grown in a lab. Cells in a stem cell line keep growing but don’t differentiate into specialized cells. Ideally, they remain free of genetic defects and continue to create more stem cells. Clusters of cells can be taken from a stem cell line and frozen for storage or shared with other researchers.


Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, promotes the repair response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives. It is the next chapter in organ transplantation and uses cells instead of donor organs, which are limited in supply.
The specialized cells can then be implanted into a person. 

Have stem cells already been used to treat diseases?
Yes. Doctors have performed stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants. In stem cell transplants, stem cells replace cells damaged by chemotherapy or disease or serve as a way for the donor’s immune system 

    • Tests and examinations
    • Conditioning treatment to prepare your body for the transplant.
    • Transplanting the stem cells.

Tests and examinations;
Before a stem cell transplant can be carried out, you’ll need a series of tests and examinations to ensure you’re healthy enough for the procedure to be carried out. Transplants tend to be more successful in people who are in good general health, despite their underlying condition.

The tests you might have include ;

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) – a simple test used to check your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity
  • An echocardiogram – a scan used to look at the heart and nearby blood vessels
  • An X-ray and/or computerized tomography (CT) scan to check the condition of organs such as the lungs and liver
  • Blood tests to check the level of blood cells and assess how well the liver and kidneys are working
  • If you have cancer, you may also need to have a biopsy.

Harvesting stem cells;
After you’ve had tests to check your general health, the stem cells that will be used for the transplant will need to be removed and stored.

There are 3 main ways stem cells can be harvested, these are;

  • From blood.
  • From bone marrow.
  • From cord blood.

Conditioning treatment;

Treatment with high doses of chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy will be needed before the stem cells can be transplanted to:

  • Destroy existing bone marrow cells.
  • Stop your immune system working.
  • As part of the conditioning treatment, you’ll be given a range of medicines.

The transplant;
The transplant will usually be carried out a day or 2 after conditioning has finished. The stem cells will be passed slowly into your body through the central line. This process often takes around a couple of hours, this won’t be painful and you’ll be awake throughout.


Affiliated Institutions

Mukwaya General Hospital
Dr Kiwanuka Edward Tel+256776418281


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