Stem Cell Definition and What Stem Cells Do
Stem Cell Definition: What They Are and What They Do

If you follow science or medical news at all, you’ve most certainly heard about the amazing potential of stem cells to treat, heal and cure diseases and conditions that challenge modern medicine. You’ve probably also heard that there are controversies surrounding their use. A simple definition of stem cells can help you understand precisely what stem cells are, why they hold so much interest for scientists and why the controversies surrounding the use of stem cells may be a thing of the past.

Stem Cell Definition

The most basic definition of stem cells is from the American Heritage Dictionary: n. An unspecialized cell that gives rise to a specific specialized cell, such as a blood cell

That definition is misleading, however. It implies that a stem cell can only produce one kind of specialized – or differentiated – cell. In reality, there are two kinds of stem cells: multipotent and pluripotent. Some scientists also believe that there are also unipotent stem cells – cells that only produce one specific type of differentiated cell. What’s the difference between them? Pluripotent stem cells have the capacity to produce daughter cells of any type in the body depending on the conditions to which they are exposed. In other words, a pluripotent cell can become a skin cell, a blood cell, a neuron or, say, a pancreatic b-cell, the cells that are defective in type 1 diabetes. Until recently, it was believed that the only source of human pluripotent stem cells was from the inner mass of a blastocyst – the human embryo at a very early stage of development. Because of this, pluripotent stem cells have been known as embryonic stem cells.

Multipotent stem cells have the capacity to produce daughter cells within a specific range of types. As an example, stem cells found in bone marrow can produce new blood cells – including red blood cells and white blood cells – but can’t produce liver cells. Because they are fully formed, multipotent stem cells have traditionally been known as adult stem cells.

In the past few years, scientists working in several different countries around the world have managed to “regress” multipotent (adult) stem cells and restore their capacity to generate any type of body cell given the right environment. These are called induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, or iPSCs. They have also found that stem cells can be extracted from far more sources than previously believed, including from bodily fluids and skin cells.

In short, the accepted stem cell definition of the past is being reshaped by current research. As new technologies make it possible to create specialized stem cells and stem cell lines without using human embryos, researchers are likely to continue making medical breakthroughs at record pace.

Here are some other sites that you can learn more about the benefits of stem cell therapy and stem cell treatments:

Stem Cell Therapy Treatments
Learn About Stem Cell Costs

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