Stem cells are important due to their various properties such as self-renewal and differentiating into specialized cells. In the medical field, they are used to detect birth defects and used in tissue regeneration as well as in transplantation therapies such as bone marrow transplantation.
Stem cells are a type of primitive cells, having the potential to differentiate and develop into a variety of specific cell types such as blood cells, liver cells, muscle cells, etc. Different types of stem cells can be found in the body based on their origin. The most well-known example of stem cells is the zygote, which can be developed into any type of cell in the body. The process by which stem cells are differentiated is known as cell specialization.
Key Areas Covered
Key Terms: Adult Stem Cells, Embryonic Stem Cells, Self-Renewal, Stem Cells, Tissue Regeneration
What are Stem Cells
Stem cells are the undifferentiated cells of a multicellular organism that gives rise to an indefinite number of same cells and differentiate into a certain type of cells in the body. The ability of stem cells to differentiate into various types of specialized cells is described by cell potency. The two main types of stem cells are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
Embryonic Stem Cells
The conceptus of fertilization is the zygote. It consists of a single cell that is capable of differentiating into any type of cell in the body. Therefore, it is known as totipotent. By the mitotic divisions of the zygote, the embryonic stem cells are produced in the four-five days old human embryo. Embryonic stem cells can be found in the blastocyst phase of the embryo. They are pluripotent and are capable of differentiating into the cells in the three germ layers: endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm. Each germ layer consists of multipotent stem cells that are capable of differentiating into corresponding types of cells in the body. Differentiation of stem cells is shown in figure 1.
Adult Stem Cells
The adult stem cells can be found in the bone marrow, brain, blood, liver, skeletal muscles, and the skin. Generally, adult stem cells are tissue-specific stem cells that can be differentiated into a particular type of specialized cells in a tissue. Therefore, the main function of adult stem cells is the renewal of the cells in that tissue.
Why are Stem Cells Important
The importance of stem cells can be categorized under five facts.
- Stem cells can renew by themselves – Stem cells can renew themselves by mitosis in a process known as proliferation.
- Stem cells can differentiate into specialized cells – Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are capable of differentiating into specialized cells in a particular tissue. Therefore, they are important in the regeneration and repair of damaged tissues.
- Stem cells help to detect birth defects – Stem cells can be used to detect birth defects and their possible reasons.
- Stem cells can be used in therapies to reverse effects of certain diseases – Stem cells can be used to replace the dysfunctional or diseased
- Stem cells can be used to understand the development – Both animals and plants are developed from an embryo. Therefore, stem cells can be used in understanding the early development of organisms.
Due to these reasons, stem cells become important in medicine; they are used in tissue regeneration as well as in transplantation therapies such as bone marrow transplantation.
Stem cells are a type of unspecialized cells that are capable of differentiating into specific cell types in the body. The two main types of stem cells are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Stem cells are important due to their various properties such as self-renewal, differentiating into specialized cells, and other medical uses such as detecting birth defects and replacing dysfunctional tissues.
1. Stöppler, Melissa Conrad. “What Are Stem Cells? Research, Transplant, Therapy, Definition.” MedicineNet, Available here.
2.“Stem Cell Basics I.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Available here.