You can't get blood from a stone, but how about stem cells from Bunnings?

You can’t get blood from a stone, but how about stem cells from Bunnings?

It’s not easy to explain a complex scientific concept like stem cells, but here goes. I’ve spent some time working with my brother, who’s a tradie, so allow me to speak about stem cells in tradie terms.

A bone marrow adult stem cell is like a dollop of magic putty. Put it on the wall, it becomes gyprock; put it on the roof, it becomes tile; put it on the carpet, and it becomes carpet. Wait, you spilled something on the carpet? You’re in for it now!

In short, every component of the house is embedded in the putty, and the putty knows exactly what part of the house it should become as soon as it touches it.

Embryonic stem cells are also like the magic putty, but they are also like a brand new apprentice, and don’t really know what they’re doing. Put the embryonic stem cell putty on the wall and you might get tile or carpet or brick or all 3. They also don’t know when to stop. You might have only needed to repair a small crack in the sink, but now you have a swimming pool there. It’s a nightmare and good luck getting that weird house featured in Better Homes and Gardens now.

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Adult stem cells exist in the bone marrow of all mammals, and a new born baby also has adult stem cells. Once the house has been built, then no matter how new it is, the adult stem cell putty will go to work.

Now think of your bone marrow like Bunnings. There’s no shortage of adult stem cell putty in there, but there’s a simple process in order to ‘check out’.

Under usual circumstances when a tissue or organ signals that it requires renewal or repair, it releases a compound called SDF-1. Unfortunately, the SDF-1 creates an adhesion molecule, which causes the stem cell at other times to stay inside the bone marrow. Think of it as like being distracted by the sausage sizzle or a Block contestant inside the store. You’ll be in there all day.

In normal circumstances, this would be fine, but stem cells aren’t aware of pollution, general stress, poor dietary choices, and week long drinking sessions after your team wins the grand final. In short, this process of breakdown and renewal is constant and ongoing. Healthy cells can create healthy organs, which means everything is working properly and you are healthy.

Now here’s the part that proves the stem cell putty works. A few years ago, a group of scientists won the Nobel prize for the discovery of what’s called green fluorescent protein. So one day, these scientists are irradiating the bone marrow in mice, as you do, and they decide to see if they can regenerate the entire bone marrow system of one of them. 

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And they decide to tag the single adult stem cell they re-inject with this green fluorescent protein. They wait a few weeks, then use one of those UV lights, you know the ones they use in hotels to show all the gross stains on the bed spread? Low and behold the mouse had glowing green cells all through it’s body, meaning that a single injected stem cell regenerated the entire bone marrow, then those stem cells went to work in the rest of the body.

They then gave the mice a laundry list of problems – heart attacks, strokes, muscle damage – and found similar findings. Not good to be a mouse in a laboratory experiment.

OK, so now the question is: won’t I run out of stem cells?

The short answer is no, because the body, like Bunnings, has an excellent inventory tracking system. Every time a stem cell decides to leave the bone marrow, it undergoes asymmetrical cell division, meaning it makes a copy of itself, which is sent out into the blood stream, and the original stays behind.

How genius is that? It’s up there with the meat pie and surround sound, but there’s something else.

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A scientist discovered there are natural compounds found in algae, fucoidan (brown sea weed), and fo-ti, (among other things), that block the SDF-1 adhesion molecule and get the stem cells into the bloodstream whether cells or tissues are screaming out for them or not.

If in the unlikely event a stem cell is released, but not used, it will just return to the bone marrow. Considering the sheer volume of cells that your body has to replace on a daily basis, in a healthy person, you wouldn’t think there’d be many at all.

Don’t be the guy who spent too long at the sausage sizzle inside Bunnings annoying the Block contestant, get your stem cell putty out of the store and get back to fixing your house. Good health, wellness and a happy spouse awaits.

Do you understand stem cells a bit better now? How could the use of adult stem cells help you? Tell us below.