Stem cells are a type of biological cell that have the potential to become any cell in the body, therefore they can be used to repair damaged tissue. Stem cells come from two main sources: embryos or adult tissues. Embryonic stem cells can give rise to virtually any cell type in the body, but they are controversial because conventional procedures for obtaining them involve the destruction of an embryo. Adult stem cells, such as those found in bone marrow, do not pose the same ethical concerns, but they have limited powers and collecting them can require invasive procedures.
In recent years scientists have begun studying the stem cells that are present in menstrual blood (stem cells appear to aid in the rapid expansion of the uterus lining during a woman’s monthly period). Menstrual stem cells appear to be a happy medium between embryonic and adult stem cells, providing an ethically acceptable alternative that is readily accessible and appears to give rise to most of the major tissue types in the body. Menstrual stem cells have several advantages over other forms of stem cells. They come from a source that’s easy to obtain from women, they could be used to treat patients without the fear of tissue rejection, and they avoid the ethical questions associated with embryonic stem cells.
Experiments in lab dishes showed that under the right conditions, the menstrual stem cells could turn into more different tissue types — including bone, blood vessel, fat, brain, lung, liver, pancreas and heart — than other adult stem cells. The new stem cells also grow readily and rapidly, which is an important advantage because it is difficult to get some types of adult stem cells to give rise to enough cells to be of any medical value.