Stem cells possess the unique and remarkable ability to develop into various types of cells in the body during early growth and life. At the same time, stem cells work in several tissues as a type of internal repair that divides without limits to replenish other cells as long as the animal or person is alive. Once the stem cell splits, each new cell holds the potential to become another stem cell or a cell with a certain function, such as a red blood cell, muscle cell, or brain cell

Key Characteristics of Stem Cells

Stem cells are different from other cells by two vital characteristics:

1. Stem cells do not have any specialized function and are able to renew themselves through a process called cell division, sometimes even after longer periods of being inactive.

2. In certain experimental or physiologic condition, stem cells can become specialized cells with functions, like organ-specific or tissue specific. Organs like bone marrow and the gut have stem cells that regularly divide to replace and repair damaged and worn out tissue. However, in other organs like the heart and pancreas, stem cells will only divide when certain conditions are met.

Generally, scientist work with two different types of stem cells from humans and animals: embryonic stem cells and “somatic”, “adult” or non-embryonic stem cells.

What Are Adult Stem Cells?

Somatic or adult stem cells are found throughout the body following embryonic development. In other words, they are stem cells found in your body as an adult. Adult stem cells are considered to be an undifferentiated cell, located among differentiated cells in an organ or tissue. These stem cells are located in various types of tissue. Somatic stem cells have been found in bone marrow, skeletal muscles, the brain, blood vessels, blood, and fat deposits.

Adult stem cells stay in a non-dividing state until they are activated by tissue injury or by disease. Adult stem cells have the ability to indefinitely self-renew or divide, which allows them to create a wide range of types of cells from the original organ. At the same time, these cells can even regenerate the original organ in its entirety. However, the primary job of adult stem cells are to repair and maintain the tissue where they are located, such as muscle stem cells.

What Are Embryonic Stem Cells?

Embryonic stem cells are the most controversial stem cells. As the name suggests, embryonic stem cells are derived from human embryos that are still in the blastocyst phase of development. Most of these stem cells come from embryos derived from eggs fertilized through in vitro fertilization in clinics that have been donated for research. In a situation of a normal pregnancy, the blastocyst stage commences until the embryo is implanted in the uterus and becomes a fetus.

However, when embryonic stem cells are used in the labs, these cells are placed in a nutrient rich cell culture. In this setting these cells lack the necessary stimulation to begin to differentiate. As a result, these embryonic stem cells simply divide and reproduce with the ability to become any cell type. This property makes embryonic stem cells highly valuable in the medical profession.

Development Potential

Typically, embryonic stem cells are much more versatile and flexible than adult stem cells. Embryonic cells possess a far greater differentiation potential because they can almost turn into any type of cell in the human body. On the other hand, adult stem cells may be limited to the number and types of cells they can develop into, which reduces the number of possible potential applications. However, more of the recent studies suggest that adult stem cells may have a much greater range of plasticity than originally was thought. The latest stem cell research suggests that adult stem cells may have the capabilities to differentiate into a much wider range of specialized cells types.

Stem Cell Potency

Stem cells are generally categorized by their potential or ability to change into other cell types. As the most potent types of stem cells, embryonic stem cells are able to change into any other type of cell in the body. The classification of stem cells include:

  • Totipotent explains their ability to grow into any possible cell type. Examples of totipotent stem cells are the first few cells that result from the dividing zygote and the zygote itself
  • Pluripotent cells have the ability to differentiate into most types of cells
  • Multipotent stem cells possess the ability to differentiate into a family of closely related cells
  • Oligopotent stem cells can only differentiate into a few different types of cells
  • Unipotent stem cells possess the ability to only produce cells of their own type. However, unipotent stem cells do possess the property of self-renewal, which is required for it to be a stem cell

Adult Stem Cells

Adult stem cells fall into the Multipotent family of stem cells. However, recent research indicates that they can be reprogrammed like embryonic stem cells to become Pluripotent cells. For many joint disorders the use of adult stem cells to treat the underlying problem is fast becoming a real alternative to surgery. One thing is for sure, with the advancement of medical technologies in today’s world, the use of stem cell therapy for joint pain and other medical conditions will only expand and flourish.

When surgery was considered the only option for a joint disorder, the future now holds that it may soon become the very last resort for many joint related issues.

As with any form of medical treatment, you should consult with your physician before embarking on any treatment plan. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed accurate for the purposes of diagnosing your particular medical condition

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