Monday, January 8, 2007
Stem Cell Basics
Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. For instance, to generate specific tissues or even whole organs like the blood, heart, or bones.
In terms of their capabilities of generating different types of cells, stem cells can be classified as three types:
Totipotent stem cells: a fertilized egg considered totipotent, can give rise to all the different types of cells in the body;
Multipotent stem cells: give rise to a small number of different cell types;
Pluripotent stem cells: isolate from a few days old human embryos, give rise to any type of cells in the body except those needed to develop a fetus.
Stem cells also can be classified as embryonic or adult, depending on their tissue of origin. Generally the adult stem cells are tissue specific, multipotent and rarely divide. However, in certain situations, such as during tissue repair after injury, they divide more frequently and adopt the fates of cell types needed. Certain kinds of adult stem cells seem to have the ability to differentiate into a number of different cell types, given the right conditions. If this differentiation of adult stem cells can be controlled in the laboratory, these cells may become the basis of therapies for many serious common diseases.
The major question here is scientists need to find a way to reliably direct the differentiation of stem cells into desired cell types, then they may be able to use the resulting differentiated cells to treat certain diseases. Diseases that might be treated include Parkinson's disease, diabetes, traumatic spinal cord injury, Purkinje cell degeneration, Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, heart disease, and vision and hearing loss.
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