What are Stem Cells?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Stem cells are mother cells that have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. One of the main characteristics of stem cells is their ability to self-renew or multiply while maintaining the potential to develop into other types of cells. Stem cells can become cells of the blood, heart, bones, skin, muscles, brain etc. There are different sources of stem cells but all types of stem cells have the same capacity to develop into multiple types of cells.

Stem cells (center ones) can develop into any cell type. They are valuable as research tools and might, in the future, be used to treat a wide range of diseases. Credit: Judith Stoffer

Stem cells (center ones) can develop into any cell type. They are valuable as research tools and might, in the future, be used to treat a wide range of diseases. Credit: Judith Stoffer

Types of stem cells

Pluripotent Stem Cells (PS cells)

These possess the capacity to divide for long periods and retain their ability to make all cell types within the organism. The best known type of pluripotent stem cell is the one present in embryos that helps babies grow within the womb. These are termed embryonic stem cells. These cells form at the blastocyst stage of development. A blastocyst is a hollow ball of cells that is smaller than a pinhead. The embryonic stem cells lie within this ball of cells. Recent research has enabled scientists to derive pluripotent cells from adult human skin cells. These are termed induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells.

Fetal stem cells

These are obtained from tissues of a developing human fetus. These cells have some characteristics of the tissues they are taken from. For example, those taken from fetal muscles can make only muscle cells. These are also called progenitor cells.

Adult stem cells

These are obtained from some tissues of the adult body. The most commonly used example is the bone marrow. Bone marrow is a rich source of stem cells that can be used to treat some blood diseases and cancers.

Discovery of stem cells

Scientists first studied the potential of stem cells in mouse embryos over two decades ago. Over years of research they discovered the properties of these stem cells in 1998. They found methods to isolate stem cells from human embryos and grow the cells in the laboratory.

Early studies utilized embryos created for infertility purposes through in vitro fertilization procedures and when they were no longer needed for that purpose. The use required voluntary donation of the embryos by the owners.

Potential for use

Stem cell research is improving by leaps and bounds. These may soon become the basis for treating diseases such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart failure, cerebral palsy, heart disease and host of other chronic ailments.

Stem cells may also be used for screening new drugs and toxins and understanding birth defects without subjecting human volunteers to the toxins and drugs.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Dec 23, 2013

Read in | English | Español | Français | Deutsch | Português | Italiano | 日本語 | 한국어 | 简体中文 | 繁體中文 | Nederlands | Русский | Svenska | Polski
Comments
  1. Jamal Hakeem Jamal Hakeem United States says:

    I think they can take it allot further than this if they really put their minds to it.

  2. Peyton Falk Peyton Falk United States says:

    *a lot

  3. Daniel Miles Daniel Miles Canada says:

    The word 'stem' does not occur in the New Testament of the Bible, and such a Hebrew word as "stem", found only in Isaiah 11:1, also means "stock", found also in Job 14:8 and Isaiah 14:24; the latter of thrice mention noting a bad ending, aka groundead to the point of extinction.

    Also please notice doing cures in Luke 13:32 is not yet perfected; For in perfected mode there are no diseases to cure.

    So, can we move on, from the law law principles to perfection, as noted to do in Hebrews 6, and notably by leaving IMPerfection for perfection has no such IMP-y pre-fix.

  4. Keshav Mishra Keshav Mishra India says:

    Is stem cell transplantation is successful in heart and liver treatment?

    • Sandeep Pillai Sandeep Pillai India says:

      just wasn't clear if the stem cells are being transplanted or as written (Scientists first studied the potential of stem cells in mouse embryos over two decades ago. Over years of research they discovered the properties of these stem cells in 1998. They found methods to isolate stem cells from human embryos and grow the cells in the laboratory.) in-vitro studies are performed. and the organ is generated in-vitro and then transplanted as a whole. And if the stem cells were able to mutiply to make all cell types i really don't think there would be any dreadful disease existing.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
Post a new comment
Post
You might also like... ×
Scientists uncover new information on how stem cells in human bowel behave