Adult vs embryonic stem cells: what’s the difference? There are approximately 37.2 trillion cells in the human body. Most of the cells in your body have a pre-determined purpose – a liver cell starts out as a liver cell and dies as a liver cell, for example. Stem cells, on the other hand, have the amazing potential to turn into a different type of cells early in a person’s life. Furthermore, stem cells can serve as a type of internal repair system to help replenish other cells throughout a person’s lifetime.
Adult Vs Embryonic Stem Cells: A Comparison
Understanding Stem Cells
Body cells divide to create new body cells. When you are young, your cells divide to help you grow. In adults, cells divide to replace cells damaged by illness or injury. When most cells divide, they create two exact duplicates. Skin cells divide to create new skin cells, for example.
Stem cells are different from other types of cells in that they have the amazing potential to turn into any one of a number of different types of cells. During cell division, the cell can remain a stem cell or it can become a cell with a special function. A stem cell may become a red blood cell, for example, or a muscle cell or brain cell.
Stem cells can become cells associated with specific tissues or organs. Stem cells frequently divide to replace damaged or worn out tissues in the gut or bone marrow. These cells divide only rarely and under special conditions in other organs, such as the pancreas and the heart.
Scientists use the stem cells for a variety of reasons. Stems cells help researchers understand complex events that happen during an illness, for example, and for exploring new strategies for treating those illnesses.
Adult vs Embryonic Stem Cells
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Embryonic stem cells are found in developing embryos; adult stem cells are found after the embryonic development stage, in juveniles and adults.
As an embryo develops, nearby tissue sends a carefully orchestrated set of signals that tell the stem cells how to develop. For example, surrounding skin cells will send signals that tell the stem cells how to become skin cells.
Adult stem cells divide to replace dying cells and to regenerate damaged tissue. Scientists have identified adult stem cells in a number of organs and tissues, including the brain, heart, gut, liver, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, bone marrow, skin, teeth, testis, and certain parts of the ovaries. The primary jobs of these stem cells are to replenish and replace dying cells, so adult stem cells never leave their tissue or organ.
Another important difference between adult vs embryonic stem cells is embryonic stem cells grow easily in the laboratory, while adult stem cells are difficult to grow. This is an important difference, in that it takes large numbers of cells to create stem cell replacement therapies.
Adult vs Embryonic Stem Cells in the Lab
Scientists have been working with human embryonic stem cells since the 1990s. Researchers discovered how to get embryonic stem cells from early mouse embryos in 1981 and, in 1998, figured how to retrieve and grow embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. The embryonic stem cells were created for use in vitro fertilization procedures that help women become pregnant. When the donor no longer needed the embryonic stem cells to get pregnant, the embryonic stem cells were sent to laboratories for research.
Many members of the community were uncomfortable with the use of embryonic stem cells and voiced ethical objections to the practice. Some medical professionals were concerned about studies that seemed to suggest that embryonic stem cells produced a certain type of tumor, known as teratomas, in lab animals. These obstacles prompted researchers and doctors to focus on adult stem cells rather than on embryonic stem cells.
Researchers made another breakthrough in 2006 when they figured out how to “reprogram” the genes of some specialized adult cells so they would act like stem cells. This new type of stem cell is known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
Learn more about the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells by watching this video from Chris Centeno, M.D.:
This early work with stem cells ushered in a new age of regenerative medicine, which is a branch of medicine focusing on creating living, function tissue to repair or replace damaged tissue. In this new age of regenerative medicine, the discussion involving adult vs embryonic stem cells becomes more complex and more important to human health.
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