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Stem cells and stem cell therapy

Stem cells are biological cells found in all multicellular organisms that can divide through mitosis and differentiate into diverse specialized cell types and can self-renew to produce more stem cells. In mammals, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells that are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts, and adult stem cells that are found in various tissues. In adult organisms, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenished in adult tissues. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all the specialized cells, but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.

Stem cells can now be artificially grown and transformed into specialized cell types with characteristics consistent with cells of various tissues such as muscles or nerves through cell culture. Highly plastic adult stem cells are routinely used in medical therapies. Stem cells can be taken from a variety of sources, including umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. Embryonic cell lines and autologous embryonic stem cells generated through therapeutic cloning have also been proposed as promising candidates for future therapies.[1] Research of stem cells grew out of findings by Ernest A. McCulloch and James E. Till at the University of Toronto in the 1960s.

The practical definition of a stem cell is the functional definition - a cell that has the potential to regenerate tissue over a lifetime. For example, the gold standard test for a bone marrow or hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) is the ability to transplant one cell and save an individual without HSCs. In this case, a stem cell must be able to produce new blood cells and immune cells over a long term, demonstrating potency. It should also be possible to isolate stem cells from the transplanted individual, which can themselves be transplanted into another individual without HSCs, demonstrating that the stem cell was able to self-renew.

Properties of stem cells can be illustrated in vitro, using methods such as clonogenic assays, where single cells are characterized by their ability to differentiate and self-renew.[7][8] As well, stem cells can be isolated based on a distinctive set of cell surface markers. However, in vitro culture conditions can alter the behavior of cells, making it unclear whether the cells will behave in a similar manner in vivo. Considerable debate exists whether some proposed adult cell populations are truly stem cells.

(Wikipedia, 2011)