According to the NIH Stem Cell Research Guidelines, human pluripotent stem cells are a unique scientific and medical resource, which can develop into most of the specialized cells and tissues of the body.
Stem cells are the ancestors of all cells in the body. Through a process known as “self-renewal,” stem cells have the ability to form organs, tissues and additional cells including muscle cells, nerve cells, liver cells and blood cells. In addition, stem cells can divide for indefinite periods in the laboratory, making them readily available for research and, potentially, treatment purposes.
“The establishment of human pluripotent stem cell lines represents a major step forward in the understanding of human biology,” say the NIH guidelines. “These unique cells have captured the interest of scientists and the public, particularly patients and their advocates. Although such research promises new treatments and, possibly even cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries, the NIH acknowledges that the ethical issues related to this research need due consideration.”
In the case of people with diabetes, it is believed stem cells have the ability to divide and make a limitless supply of islets.