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Stem Cells 101: Types, Sources, and Uses

Updated: Jun 14, 2023


stem cell types and sources

Stem cells: What they are and what they do

Stem cells have the potential to revolutionize medical treatments. Discover the different types of stem cells, their current and potential applications, as well as the current state of research and practice in this field.

Stem cells have been a topic of discussion in the media and have piqued the interest of those who are suffering from severe illnesses. People are curious about the nature of stem cells, their application in treating diseases and injuries, and the reason for their controversial status.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about stem cells.


Stem cells are the fundamental cells that generate various other cell types including nerve cells, blood cells, and others within the body.

Stem cells are the essential building units of the human body. They possess the ability to create specialized cells by means of cell division. This process can occur naturally or artificially in laboratories, and the result is known as daughter cells.

Stem cells can divide and create daughter cells that can either be new stem cells or specialize into specific cells such as blood, brain, heart muscle, or bone cells. Only stem cells have the unique ability to produce new types of cells, which is not found in any other cell in the body.


The reason for the significant attention on stem cells explained.

Researchers hope stem cell studies can help to:

  • Increase understanding of how diseases occur. Stem cells can be transformed into different types of cells present in the body's organs and tissues such as bones, heart muscles, and nerves. This transformation can provide researchers with a better understanding of the progression of diseases and medical conditions.


  • Generate healthy cells to replace cells affected by disease (regenerative medicine).Stem cells possess the unique ability to transform into specific cells that can assist in mending tissues damaged by illnesses or injuries. Patients dealing with a variety of medical conditions, such as spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer, and osteoarthritis, can benefit from stem cell therapies. Stem cells are being studied by scientists for their potential to replace damaged tissues in transplant and regenerative medicine. The research on stem cells and their applications in transplant and regenerative medicine is constantly advancing.


  • Test new drugs for safety and effectiveness. Certain types of stem cells can be utilized to test the safety and quality of experimental medication before administering them to humans. This approach can have a significant impact on the development of drugs that evaluate cardiac toxicity. Recent studies have explored the effectiveness of using transformed human stem cells that are specific to particular tissues to test new drugs. To ensure the accuracy of drug testing, cells must be transformed to acquire the characteristics of the cells that the drug targets. Techniques are being studied to transform cells into specific cells, such as creating nerve cells to evaluate new drugs for nerve ailments. Tests can determine whether the new drug has any effect on the cells and whether the cells are damaged.

The origin of stem cells: Where do they come from?

the origin of stem cells

There are several sources of stem cells:

  • Embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are derived from blastocysts, embryos that are 3 to 5 days old and contain around 150 cells. These pluripotent stem cells have the capability to divide into more stem cells or differentiate into any type of cell in the human body. This characteristic of embryonic stem cells makes it possible for them to regenerate or repair damaged tissues and organs.


  • Adult stem cells. Stem cells found in adult tissues are less versatile than embryonic stem cells when it comes to generating different cell types. It was previously believed that adult stem cells could only create similar cells, such as blood cells from bone marrow stem cells. However, recent studies suggest that adult stem cells may have the potential to create various types of cells, such as bone or heart muscle cells. These findings have led to clinical trials aimed at testing the safety and effectiveness of using adult stem cells to treat neurological or heart diseases.


  • Adult cells altered to have properties of embryonic stem cells. Researchers have managed to convert regular adult cells into stem cells through genetic reprogramming. By altering the genes in these cells, scientists can make them behave much like embryonic stem cells, which could potentially replace the use of embryonic stem cells and prevent rejection by the immune system. However, it is still unknown whether using modified adult cells in humans is safe. Studies have demonstrated that functional heart cells can be created from connective tissue cells, and when administered to animals with heart failure, these cells have improved heart function and extended survival time.


  • Perinatal stem cells.Stem cells, which are capable of transforming into specialized cells, have been discovered in amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood. Amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds a developing fetus in the uterus. Scientists have identified stem cells in amniotic fluid samples taken from pregnant women using a medical procedure called amniocentesis.


Why is the use of embryonic stem cells a controversial issue?

use of embryonic stem cells controversial

Stem cells that originate from a group of cells formed when eggs and sperm are combined in a laboratory are referred to as embryonic stem cells. These cells have been a topic of ethical debate due to their origin from human embryos. The use of human embryonic stem cells in research has raised concerns about the morality of the practice.

In 2009, the National Institutes of Health issued a set of regulations for the examination of human stem cells. These regulations clarify the explanation of embryonic stem cells and their allowable utilization in investigation. The rules also propose the procedure for giving embryonic stem cells. Additionally, the regulations specify that embryonic stem cells taken from in vitro fertilization embryos can only be used when the embryo is no longer needed.


Where do the embryos used for stem cells come from?

Embryonic stem cell research pertains to the utilization of embryos that were fertilized through in vitro fertilization, but were not implanted in the uterus. The donors have given their consent for these embryos to be donated. The stem cells can be grown in specific solutions within laboratories using test tubes or petri dishes.


Why Researchers Don't Consider Adult Stem Cells as a Practical Alternative?

Although adult stem cells have potential in research, they may not have the same flexibility and endurance as embryonic stem cells. The limited capacity of adult stem cells to transform into different cell types can limit their effectiveness in treating illnesses.

Adult stem cells, unlike embryonic stem cells, are susceptible to abnormalities due to environmental factors or errors during replication. However, research indicates that adult stem cells have more flexibility than previously thought.


What exactly are stem cell lines and why are researchers exploring their potential uses?

A stem cell line is a group of cells that are grown in a laboratory and originate from a single stem cell. These cells have the ability to multiply without developing into specific cell types. It is important for these cells to maintain their genetic integrity and continue to produce additional stem cells. Researchers can obtain clusters of cells from a stem cell line, freeze them for storage, or share them with other scientists.


An explanation of the definition and workings of stem cell therapy, also referred to as regenerative medicine.

stem cell therapy for regenerative medicine

Stem cell therapy, also called regenerative medicine, helps repair damaged, dysfunctional, or injured tissue by using stem cells or their byproducts. It's a new approach to organ transplantation that relies on cells instead of donor organs, which are in short supply.

Stem cells are produced in a laboratory and are modified to transform into certain cell types, such as nerve cells, blood cells, or heart muscle cells.

Once the cells have been specialized, they are fit for implantation into a person. For instance, if the individual suffers from heart disease, the cells may be introduced into the heart muscle. The healthy cells that have been transplanted to the heart muscle can then aid in the restoration of the damaged heart muscle.

It has been demonstrated by scientists that heart tissue can be repaired in individuals by utilizing adult bone marrow cells that are directed to transform into heart-like cells. Further investigations are being conducted in this area.


Have diseases already been treated with stem cells?

Stem cell transplants, also referred to as bone marrow transplants, have been conducted by medical professionals. In these transplants, stem cells are utilized to substitute cells that have been impaired by illness or chemotherapy. Additionally, they can function as a means for the donor's immune system to combat certain types of cancer and blood-related illnesses, including neuroblastoma, leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. These transplants involve the use of adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood.

Adult stem cells are being studied by scientists to address various degenerative illnesses, such as heart failure.


What are the concerns regarding the utilization of embryonic stem cells on humans?

In order for embryonic stem cells to have practical application, researchers must ensure that the stem cells have the capability to transform into the specific types of cells that are needed.

Scientists have found methods to guide stem cells towards developing into particular cell types, like steering embryonic stem cells to transform into cardiac cells. Investigations are still ongoing in this field.

Scientists are exploring methods to regulate the development and differentiation of embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to grow in an irregular manner or spontaneously specialize in various cell types.

It is possible for embryonic stem cells to cause an immune response from the recipient's body, which could result in the stem cells being attacked as foreign objects. Additionally, the stem cells may not function as intended, and the consequences of this are not yet known. Researchers are actively researching methods to prevent these potential complications.


What advantages could therapeutic cloning provide, and how is it defined?

Therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, is a method to produce adaptable stem cells that are not reliant on fertilized eggs. The technique involves removing the nucleus, which contains genetic material, from an unfertilized egg and a cell of a donor.

The egg's nucleus is removed and replaced with a donor nucleus through a process called nuclear transfer. The egg will then divide and create a blastocyst, resulting in a line of stem cells that are genetically identical to the donor's cells, effectively producing a clone.

Some scientists think that stem cells that come from therapeutic cloning might have advantages over those from fertilized eggs. This is because cloned cells have a lower chance of being rejected after being transplanted back into the donor. Additionally, using cloned cells may allow researchers to observe how a disease develops more precisely.


Has therapeutic cloning yielded positive results in humans?

Despite achieving success in various other species, scientists have yet to accomplish therapeutic cloning in humans.

Scientists have made progress in generating human pluripotent stem cells through alterations to therapeutic cloning techniques. The potential of therapeutic cloning in humans remains a topic of ongoing research.

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