Fetal Cells Gone Wild
Might we someday use fetal stem cells, harvested from blood or organs, to boost the brain, treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, and reverse the ravages of age?
What's the Big Idea?
Within any woman who has ever been pregnant, some of her baby’s cells may live for as long as she lives. During pregnancy and childbirth, cells migrate across the placenta in both directions: from fetus to mother, and vice versa. In the mom, fetal cells may take residence in her lungs, spinal cord, skin, thyroid gland, liver, intestine, cervix, gallbladder, spleen, lymph nodes, and blood vessels, among other body parts. Incredibly, fetal cells may even live on in her heart and mind. This phenomenon is called fetal microchimerism. Its root, chimera, is an animal in Greek mythology, composed of the body parts of many animals. In a way, we are all are chimeras — and mothers are the most complex of all.
What's the Significance?
When fetal cells are good, they are very, very good. Fetal stem cells have been found to migrate to the sites of injury, where they differentiate—morph —into the mother’s tissues, helping to repair and rejuvenate them. They may help protect mothers from some forms of cancer. They may cross the blood-brain barrier and potentially generate new neurons. Might we someday use fetal stem cells, harvested from blood or organs, to boost the brain, treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, and reverse the ravages of age? Still in its infancy, the research in fetal microchimerism has big potential.
Watch Jena Pincott explain fetal microchimerism in this video here:
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Jena Pincott is the author of Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.
- At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
- See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
- There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.