Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research focuses on elucidating the basis of stem cell identity, origin and maintenance. Because of their potential for injury or disease treatment, a significant focus in stem cell research is the development of clinical applications based on stem cell transplantation. Additionally, stem cells are increasingly a preferred tool for drug development and toxicology studies.

What are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are unspecified or partially specified cells which have the capacity to proliferate or self-renew and differentiate into a variety of cell types. These two main defining properties, renewal capacity and specification potential, make stem cells an attractive research subject for their potential to significantly impact therapeutic approaches for a wide range of diseases (e.g., neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, arthritis, and degenerative eye conditions such as macular degeneration). Different types of stem cells are identifiable by their specification potential.


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Stem cells have diverse differentiation potential and may be classified as totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent or unipotent.

Totipotent stem cells:

generate all the cell types in the organism (e.g., zygote or fertilized egg).

Pluripotent stem cells:

generate all the embryonic germ layers (i.e. endoderm, ectoderm and mesoderm), but are unable to generate extra-embryonic tissues (i.e. placenta). Best exemplified by embryonic stem cells (ESCs) which are derived from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are reprogrammed from adult differentiated cells (e.g., fibroblasts, peripheral blood mononuclear cells).

Multipotent stem cells:

generate a limited number of cell types based on their tissue of origin.

Mesenchymal stem cells- give rise to fat, bone, muscle and cartilage.
Hematopoietic stem cells- give rise to different types of blood cells (i.e. platelets, red and white cells).
Neural stem cells- give rise to neurons, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes.

Oligopotent stem cells:

generate few cell types which are closely related (e.g., myeloid stem cells).

Unipotent stem cells:

generate one cell type (e.g., epidermal stem cells, muscle stem cells).


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Select References

Avasthi, S., Srivastava, R. N., & Singh, A. (2008). Stem Cell: Past, Present and Future- A Review Article. Internet Journal of Medical Update - EJOURNAL. https://doi.org/10.4314/ijmu.v3i1.39856

Ilic, D., & Polak, J. M. (2011). Stem cells in regenerative medicine: Introduction: British Medical Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldr012

Glicksman, M. A. (2018). Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: The Most Versatile Source for Stem Cell Therapy. Clinical Therapeutics. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinthera.2018.06.004