Cells for New life

Types of Stem Cells

Embrionic Stem Cells


A stem cell is a cell that has unique capacity to renew itself and give rise to specialized cell types. Although most cells of the body, such as heart cells or skin cells, are committed to conduct a specific function, a stem cell is uncommitted and remains uncommitted, until it receives a signal to develop into a specialized cell. Their proliferative capacity combined with the ability to become specialized makes stem cells unique. 

Researchers have for years looked for ways to use stem cells to replace cells and tissues that are damaged or diseased. Recently, stem cells have received much attention. What is “new” and what has brought stem cell biology to the forefront of science and public policy? Scientists interested in human development have been studying animal development for many years. This research yielded our first glimpse at a class of stem cells that can develop into any cell type in the body. This class of stem cells is called pluripotent, meaning the cells have the potential to develop  into more than 200 different known cell types. Stem cells with this unique property comes from embryo tissue. In 1998, for the first time, investigators were able to isolate this class of pluripotent stem cell from early human embryos and grow them in culture. In the few years since this discovery, evidence has emerged that these stem cells are, indeed, capable of becoming almost all of the specialized cells of the body and, thus, may have the potential to generate replacement cells for a broad array of tissues and organs, such as the heart, the pancreas, and the nervous system. 

DEFINITIONS (This title should be deleted as few definitions are like paragraph containing extra information such as in adult stem cells, clonality, progenitor cells)

Stem cells. Stem cells are cells from the embryo, fetus, or adult that has, under certain conditions, the ability to reproduce itself for long periods or, in the case of adult stem cells, throughout the life of the organism. It also can give rise to specialized cells that make up the tissues and organs of the body. Much basic understanding about embryonic stem cells has come from animal research. In the laboratory, this type of stem cell can proliferate indefinitely, a property that is not shared by adult stem cells. 

Pluripotent stem cells. A single pluripotent stem cell has the ability to give rise to types of cells that develop from the three germ layers (mesoderm, endoderm, and ectoderm) from which all the cells of the body arise. The only known sources of human pluripotent stem cells are those isolated and cultured from early human embryos and from fetal tissue that was destined to be a part of the gonads. 

Embrionic stem cells. Embrionic stem cells are derived from a group of cells called the inner cell mass, which is part of the early (4- to 5-day) embryo called the blastocyst. Once removed from the blastocyst, the cells of the inner cell mass can be cultured into embryonic stem cells. These embryonic stem cells are not themselves embryos. In fact, evidence is emerging that these cells do not behave in the laboratory as they would in the developing embryo – that is, the conditions in which these cells develop in culture are likely to differ from those in the developing embryo. 

Embrionic germ cells. Embrionic germ cells are derived from fetal tissue. Specifically, they are isolated from the primordial germ cells of the gonadal ridge of the 5- to 10-week fetus. Later in development, the gonadal ridge develops into the testes or ovaries and the primordial germ cells give rise to eggs or sperm. Embryonic stem cells and embryonic germ cells are pluripotent, but they are not identical in their properties and characteristics. 

Differentiation. Differentiation is the process by which an unspecialized cell (such as a stem cell) becomes specialized into one of the many cells that make up the body. During differentiation, certain genes become activated and other genes become inactivated in an intricately regulated fashion. As a result, a differentiated cell develops specific structures and performs certain functions. For example, a mature, differentiated nerve cell has thin, fiber-like projections that send and receive the electrochemical signals that permit the nerve cell to communicate with other nerve cells. In the laboratory, a stem cell can be manipulated to become specialized or partially specialized cell types (e.g., heart muscle, nerve, or pancreatic cells) and this is known as directed differentiation.