Researchers are testing adult stem cells to treat other conditions, including a number of degenerative diseases such as heart failure. For embryonic stem cells to be useful in people, researchers must be certain that the stem cells will differentiate into the specific cell types desired. Researchers have discovered ways to direct stem cells to become specific types of cells, such as directing embryonic stem cells to become heart cells.
Research is ongoing in this area. Embryonic stem cells can also grow irregularly or specialize in different cell types spontaneously. Researchers are studying how to control the growth and differentiation of embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells might also trigger an immune response in which the recipient's body attacks the stem cells as foreign invaders, or the stem cells might simply fail to function normally, with unknown consequences.
Researchers continue to study how to avoid these possible complications.
Therapeutic cloning, also called somatic cell nuclear transfer, is a technique to create versatile stem cells independent of fertilized eggs. In this technique, the nucleus, which contains the genetic material, is removed from an unfertilized egg. The nucleus is also removed from the cell of a donor. This donor nucleus is then injected into the egg, replacing the nucleus that was removed, in a process called nuclear transfer. The egg is allowed to divide and soon forms a blastocyst.
This process creates a line of stem cells that is genetically identical to the donor's cells — in essence, a clone. Some researchers believe that stem cells derived from therapeutic cloning may offer benefits over those from fertilized eggs because cloned cells are less likely to be rejected once transplanted back into the donor and may allow researchers to see exactly how a disease develops.
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Stem Cells: MedlinePlus
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By Mayo Clinic Staff. National Institutes of Health. Accessed July 23, Stem cell basics. Nelson TJ, et al. Stem cell therapy and congenital heart disease. Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease. Terashvili M, et al. Stem cell therapies in cardiovascular disease. Journal of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Anesthesia. In press. Samsonraj RM, et al.
What Are Stem Cells?
Concise review: Multifaceted characterization of human mesenchymal stem cells for use in regenerative medicine. Stem Cells Translational Medicine. Blood-forming stem cell transplants. National Cancer Institute. Abbaspanah B, et al. Advances in perinatal stem cells research: A precious cell source for clinical applications. Routine tests during pregnancy.
Types of stem cells
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Stem cell facts.
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Advertising Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization and proceeds from Web advertising help support our mission. Stem cells are the foundation for every organ and tissue in your body. There are many different types of stem cells that come from different places in the body or are formed at different times in our lives.
These include embryonic stem cells that exist only at the earliest stages of development and various types of tissue-specific or adult stem cells that appear during fetal development and remain in our bodies throughout life. Beyond these two critical abilities, though, stem cells vary widely in what they can and cannot do and in the circumstances under which they can and cannot do certain things.
This is one of the reasons researchers use all types of stem cells in their investigations. In normal development, the cells inside the inner cell mass will give rise to the more specialized cells that give rise to the entire body—all of our tissues and organs. However, when scientists extract the inner cell mass and grow these cells in special laboratory conditions, they retain the properties of embryonic stem cells. These cells are incredibly valuable because they provide a renewable resource for studying normal development and disease, and for testing drugs and other therapies.
Human embryonic stem cells have been derived primarily from blastocysts created by in vitro fertilization IVF for assisted reproduction that were no longer needed.
Typically, these stem cells can generate different cell types for the specific tissue or organ in which they live. Some tissues and organs within your body contain small caches of tissue-specific stem cells whose job it is to replace cells from that tissue that are lost in normal day-to-day living or in injury, such as those in your skin, blood, and the lining of your gut. However, study of these cells has increased our general knowledge about normal development, what changes in aging, and what happens with injury and disease.