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What are Stem Cells?

Seattle, WA

Image of embryonic stem cells

Stem cells are the basic form of cells that can become other types of cells in the body. Specialized cells, like brain cells, skin cells, and blood cells, can be derived from stem cells. These special kinds of cells are being explored for their potential in treating incurable diseases.

A diagram showing possible changes stem cells go through

There are 2 main kinds of stem cells: adult stem cells, and embryonic stem cells.

Adult stem cells are found throughout the body, and stay throughout a person’s life. These cells are more specialized than embryonic cells and can develop into other cells, but not into every kind of cell. These can be difficult to distinguish between because they stay dormant until the body needs them for growing or repairing tissue.


Embryonic stem cells come from embryos, these are usually derived from extra embryos from in vitro fertilization that have been donated to science. The mass of cells in embryos that eventually form the body contain stem cells that are pluripotent, which means they can become any type of cell.


There are also induced pluripotent cells, which are adult stem cells that are turned mostly into embryonic stem cells through laboratory methods. Induced pluripotent stem cells are still being experimented with to be able to develop into any type of cell, as there are still some cells they cannot turn into.


biology, stem cells, cell, science, DNA, genetics
Developing stem cells

Stem cells are used to observe the origins of diseases in order to understand them better and to develop stem cell therapies to treat diseases or injuries. These therapies rely on stem cell-generated tissue made in labs to repair damage caused by injuries or diseases. For example, if a person has kidney disease, researchers would be able to grow the necessary tissues from stem cells and transplant it back into the organ without needing a donor. This method can be developed into treating burns, heart disease, Parkinson’s, and cancer.


Although scientists have made significant progress in this field, already performing bone marrow transplants, there is still a lot more to be discovered. There is still more time until these solutions can be widely adopted, but stem cells still hold a promising stake in the future of medicine.

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