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A stem cell is a "generic" cell that can make exact copies of itself indefinitely. A stem cell has the ability to produce specialized cells for various tissues in the body, such as heart muscle, brain tissue, and liver tissue. Scientists are able to maintain stem cells forever, developing them into specialized cells as needed.

Two basic types of Stem Cell

Embryonic stem cells

Adult stem cells

Embryonic stem cells these are obtained from either aborted fetuses or fertilized eggs that are left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF). They are useful for medical and research purposes because they can produce cells for almost every tissue in the body.

Adult stem cells - these are not as versatile for research purposes because they are specific to certain cell types, such as blood, intestines, skin, and muscle. The term "adult stem cell" may be misleading because both children and adults have them.

Stem cells can now be grown and transformed into specialized cells with characteristics consistent with cells of various tissues such as muscles or nerves through cell culture. Highly plastic adult stem cells from a variety of sources, including umbilical cord blood and bone marrow, are routinely used in medical therapies.

Embryonic cell lines and autologos embryonic stem cells generated through therapeutic cloning have also been proposed as promising candidates for future therapies.

Properties of stem cells can be illustrated in vitro, using methods such as clonogenic assays, where single cells are characterized by their ability to differentiate and selfrenew. As well, stem cells can be isolated based on a distinctive set of cell surface markers.

However, in vitro culture conditions can alter the behavior of cells, making it unclear whether the cells will behave in a similar manner in vivo. Considerable debate exists whether some proposed adult cell populations are truly stem cells.

Medical researchers believe that stem cell therapy has the potential to dramatically change the treatment of human disease. A number of adult stem cell therapies already exist, particularly bone marrow transplants that are used to treat leukemia.

In the future, medical researchers anticipate being able to use technologies derived from stem cell research to treat a wider variety of diseases including cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, and muscle damage, amongst a number of other impairments and conditions.

Key research events

1908 - The term "stem cell" was proposed for scientific use by the Russian histologist Alexander Maksimov (18741928) at congress of hematologic society in Berlin. It postulated existence of haematopoietic stem cells. 9601s - Joseph Altman and Gopal Das present scientific evidence of adult neurogenesis, ongoing stem cell activity in the brain; their reports contradict Cajal's "no new neurons" dogma and are largely ignored.

1963 - McCulloch and Till illustrate the presence of self-renewing cells in mouse bone marrow. 1978 - Haematopoietic stem cells are discovered in human cord blood. 1992 - Neural stem cells are cultured in vitro as neurospheres. 1997 - Leukemia is shown to originate from a haematopoietic stem cell, the first direct evidence for cancer stem cells.

2000s - Several reports of adult stem cell plasticity are published. 2001 - Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology clone first early (four- to six-cell stage) human embryos for the purpose of generating embryonic stem cells. 2003 - Dr. Songtao Shi discovers new source of adult stem cells in children's primary teeth. 20042005 - Korean researcher Hwang Woo-Suk claims to have created several human embryonic stem cell lines from unfertilised human oocytes. The lines were later shown to be fabricated.

October 2006 - Scientists at Newcastle University in England create the first ever artificial liver cells using umbilical cord blood stem cells.

January 2007 - Scientists at Wake Forest University led by Dr. Anthony Atala and Harvard University report discovery of a new type of stem cell in amniotic fluid. This may potentially provide an alternative to embryonic stem cells for use in research and therapy.

30 October 2008 - Embryonic-like stem cells from a single human hair.

5 March 2009 Australian scientists find a way to improve chemotherapy of mouse muscle stem cells.

28 May 2009 Kim et al. announced that they had devised a way to manipulate skin cells to create patient specific "induced pluripotent stem cells" (iPS), claiming it to be the 'ultimate stem cell solution'.

THAnk YoU !!!

Bayzon S. Zatarain RN