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Cell Division: Medical Advancements & Technology

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we will be going over the applications of cell division. If you've ever wondered what goes on in a biomedical research lab, this lesson is for you. Here, we'll talk about biotechnology using cell division that has helped improve the human condition.

What Is Cell Division?

Have you ever fallen and gotten a scrape? In a few days, you'll see new skin forming, healing the scrape. If you stop and think about it, this is an amazing process. You killed off many cells during the injury, and yet they grew back exactly how they were to begin with. And this process doesn't stop at just a scrape, even serious injuries like burns and broken bones can be healed through mitosis or cell division. When your body requires new cells, the existing cells are signaled to go through mitosis.

Scientists can exploit mitosis, not only to fix physical injuries, but to study and treat diseases, such as neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Technologies in Cell Division

Scientists have learned a lot about cell division. We understand what initiates mitosis in cells, the steps of mitosis and many of the proteins involved. There are several applications of this knowledge, which we will dive into next.

Stem Cells

Stem cells are cells that can become other types of cells. They are like a new package of clay, waiting to be divided and formed into different structures. These cells are incredibly valuable because they can be differentiated, or changed, into any type of cell needed in the body.

Stem cells go through cell division to become any other type of cell
stem cells

Stem cells come from embryos, umbilical cords, and some parts of the body like the skin, intestines, hair cells and blood cells. However, there is a controversy over stem cells because some people believe that embryos are needed to make stem cells, although this is not true. So, scientists have been working on a technology to make stem cells from existing, already differentiated cells.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are a type of stem cell that is made from an existing cell, usually a skin cells or other cells that are easy to access. Scientists collect the cells from human donors or from cell lines in the lab.

They then subject the cells to genetic reprogramming. Essentially, the scientists change the DNA of the skin cell to look like the DNA of stem cells. Once the stem cell is made, the scientists treat it with a variety of molecules that cause the cell to change into the cells that are needed, such as heart cells, liver cells, or even brain cells.

So, although this is cool, you might still be wondering why it matters. Many disorders involve the death of cells, such as heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer's, and diabetes, which need cells or entire organs replaced.

iPSCs can be grown to replace damaged cells or organs using cell division
iPSCs

Imagine having a parent with Alzheimer's. They slowly degenerate, forgetting their loved ones and eventually need full time care. With iPSCs, we could take a sample of skin cells, turn them into iPSCs, then turn them into neurons and replace the damaged cells.

Diabetes

Cell division is important for existing cells as well, not just new cells made in the lab. In untreated diabetes, one of the main symptoms that can occur is diabetic retinopathy. In this condition, the high blood sugar levels affect the eyes. They cause blood vessels to grow out of control in the retina, the part of the eye that senses light. This eventually can cause blindness.

Scientists are working to understand what controls cell division in this process, because new blood vessels require new cells to be made. They look at what proteins are activated, and what signaling molecules start the process in diabetics compared to normal people. Eventually scientists will learn what needs to happen to stop the blood vessel growth, creating an effective treatment for diabetic retinopathy.

Neurological Disorders

Imagine being at a football game. The crowd is cheering, until a player is hit and falls to the ground. He's taken from the field in a stretcher. You later learn he suffered a spinal cord injury and will be paralyzed for life.

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