Stem cell

Stem cells are cells that can differentiate into other types of cells, and can also divide in self-renewal to produce more of the same type of stem cells.

There are three known accessible sources of autologous adult stem cells in humans: bone marrow, adipose tissue, and blood. Stem cells can also be taken from umbilical cord blood just after birth. Of all stem cell therapy types, autologous harvesting involves the least risk.

In practice, stem cells are identified by whether they can regenerate tissue. For example, the defining test for bone marrow or hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) is the ability to transplant the cells and save an individual without HSCs. This demonstrates that the cells can produce new blood cells over a long term. 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.

The neural stem cells self-renew and at some point transition into radial glial progenitor cells (RGPs). Early-formed RGPs self-renew by symmetrical division to form a reservoir group of progenitor cells. These cells transition to a neurogenic state and start to divide asymmetrically to produce a large diversity of many different neuron types, each with unique gene expression, morphological, and functional characteristics. The process of generating neurons from radial glial cells is called neurogenesis. The radial glial cell, has a distinctive bipolar morphology with highly elongated processes spanning the thickness of the neural tube wall. It shares some glial characteristics, most notably the expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). The radial glial cell is the primary neural stem cell of the developing vertebrate CNS, and its cell body resides in the ventricular zone, adjacent to the developing ventricular system. Neural stem cells are committed to the neuronal lineages (neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes), and thus their potency is restricted.

A human embryonic stem cell is also defined by the expression of several transcription factors and cell surface proteins. The transcription factors Oct-4, Nanog, and Sox2 form the core regulatory network that ensures the suppression of genes that lead to differentiation and the maintenance of pluripotency. The cell surface antigens most commonly used to identify hES cells are the glycolipids stage specific embryonic antigen 3 and 4, and the keratan sulfate antigens Tra-1-60 and Tra-1-81. The molecular definition of a stem cell includes many more proteins and continues to be a topic of research.

Stem cells can also be taken from umbilical cord blood just after birth. Of all stem cell types, autologous harvesting involves the least risk. By definition, autologous cells are obtained from one's own body, just as one may bank his or her own blood for elective surgical procedures.

Most adult stem cells are lineage-restricted (multipotent) and are generally referred to by their tissue origin (mesenchymal stem cell, adipose-derived stem cell, endothelial stem cell, dental pulp stem cell, etc.). Muse cells (multi-lineage differentiating stress enduring cells) are a recently discovered pluripotent stem cell type found in multiple adult tissues, including adipose, dermal fibroblasts, and bone marrow. While rare, muse cells are identifiable by their expression of SSEA-3, a marker for undifferentiated stem cells, and general mesenchymal stem cells markers such as CD105. When subjected to single cell suspension culture, the cells will generate clusters that are similar to embryoid bodies in morphology as well as gene expression, including canonical pluripotency markers Oct4, Sox2, and Nanog.

With the increasing demand of human adult stem cells for both research and clinical purposes (typically 15 million cells per kg of body weight are required per treatment) it becomes of utmost importance to bridge the gap between the need to expand the cells in vitro and the capability of harnessing the factors underlying replicative senescence. Adult stem cells are known to have a limited lifespan in vitro and to enter replicative senescence almost undetectably upon starting in vitro culturing.

Furthermore, induced pluripotent stem cells provide several therapeutic advantages. Like ESCs, they are pluripotent. They thus have great differentiation potential; theoretically, they could produce any cell within the human body (if reprogramming to pluripotency was "complete"). Moreover, unlike ESCs, they potentially could allow doctors to create a pluripotent stem cell line for each individual patient. Frozen blood samples can be used as a valuable source of induced pluripotent stem cells. Patient specific stem cells allow for the screening for side effects before drug treatment, as well as the reduced risk of transplantation rejection. Despite their current limited use therapeutically, iPSCs hold create potential for future use in medical treatment and research.

Stem cell treatments may lower symptoms of the disease or condition that is being treated. The lowering of symptoms may allow patients to reduce the drug intake of the disease or condition. Stem cell treatment may also provide knowledge for society to further stem cell understanding and future treatments.

Research is underway to develop various sources for stem cells, and to apply stem cell treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and conditions, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. Research is also underway in generating organoids using stem cells, which would allow for further understanding of human development, organogenesis, and modeling of human diseases.