Stem cells are a special type of cell found in multicellular organisms, such as plants and animals, which are yet to develop traits that distinguish specific tissues from one another.
While these cells exist in both fully developed humans and their embryos, each contains a slightly different type of stem cell with different tasks.
The cluster of cells in a five day old embryo, for instance, is made up of pluripotent stem cells, which can develop into any of the hundreds of cell types making up an adult body. Their purpose is to differentiate as they reproduce, generating the body’s structures in stages.
Once fully developed, a body maintains a supply of stem cells that can be regarded as multipotent. These ‘undecided’ cells have lost their ability to grow into most tissues, but can still develop characteristics of a variety of related cell types.
Unlike embryonic stem cells, these adult (or somatic) stem cells assist in growth and repair, replacing lost cells and fixing damaged tissue.
In 2006, researchers showed that by adding a handful of specific genes to adult cells, called fibroblasts, they can turn embryonic stem cells into pluripotent cells.
These induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, have a wide range of potential uses in medical treatment and biological research.
How are stem cells used to treat disease?
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