Stem cells are undifferentiated cells, unique in both their proliferative capacity and ability to specialize into different cell types. The majority of cells that make up the human body have a specific function and lifespan and do not have the capacity to renew. In contrast, stem cells are able to divide and produce copies, replicating many times and serving as a biological repair system for the body, forming the basis of normal growth and development. In addition to their self-renewal properties, stem cells can differentiate to become more specific and specialized cell types. The classification of stem cells can be based upon their differentiating potential:
Stem cells can also be classified based on their origin and are present in both the embryo (embryonic stem cells) and adult (adult stem cells). Embryonic stem cells are derived from one of the earliest stages of development, thus they are pluripotent and can give rise to all human cell types. Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells found within differentiated tissue, they are multipotent and can renew and become specialized to form any of the cell types of the tissue of origin. There are many different types of adult stem cell including:
All adult stem cells are considered multi- or uni-potent, however recent advances in stem cell research have enabled adult stem cells to be re-programmed to become embryonic cell-like, expressing genes that define and maintain the same properties as embryonic cells. These induced pluripotent stem cells have been shown in research settings to be capable of generating cells characteristic of all three germ lines and are currently being used in drug development, disease modelling, and are hopeful candidates in the field of transplantation medicine.
The range of cloning and molecular interrogation products offered by Bioline covers a full suite of tools to assist efforts towards better understanding of stem cells and their unique properties. ISO 13485 manufacturing standards also supports seamless transition into therapeutic applications.
These are just some of the questions researchers are interested in understanding to shed light on the unique properties of stem cells, to understand how an embryo develops, or how hematopoietic stem cells balance self-renewal and the provision of differentiated progenitors for the maintenance of the blood system throughout life. Identifying the molecular cues that regulate stem cell systems, as well as the microenvironments that contribute the various triggers and maintenance systems, are key to gaining greater understanding of the unique properties of stem cells.
For many years embryonic stem (ES) cells were the sole source of pluripotent cells - carrying the weight and complication of associated ethical issues, the availability and utility of ES cells was ultimately limited. It was the Nobel-prize winning breakthrough from Takahashi and Yamanaka in 2006 that led to the identification of four important reprogramming factors that enabled generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from previously differentiated somatic cells. From a simple skin biopsy or blood sample iPSCs can now be generated, offering genetically matched pluripotent cells for virtually any patient – not surprisingly, there is excitement around the potential of this field for understanding disease mechanisms and development of new treatment options. There are still many hurdles and details to understand and overcome, including the molecular characterization of iPSCs and whether they are indeed equivalent to ES cells – evidence indicates differences in efficacy of differentiation as well as DNA methylation patterns – plus identifying effective protocols to achieve appropriate and reproducible differentiation is also proving to be a challenge.
Efforts continue towards a better understanding of stem cell characteristics in order to harness this potential in the therapeutic realm. Today, stem cells are being used to produce differentiated cell lines for drug testing, previously only possible on animal models. Knowledge of the signalling mechanisms that control specific differentiation is still limited, and much more work can be done in this area to improve reproducibility and increase the range of available differentiated cell types. Harvesting of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) from bone marrow and more recently from circulating blood, has been used to treat blood cancer patients and replenish blood components after chemotherapy rounds.
Perhaps the most exciting potential for stem cell therapy lies in the generation of new cells and tissues to replace diseased or ailing counterparts. Known as cell-based therapy, this treatment is being looked at to regenerate spinal cord damage, brain injury and heart disease. With the advent of induced pluripotent stem cells, this approach to regenerative medicine is looking even more promising. From cloning and vector reagents, PCR and real-time PCR kits or individual components, sample preparation, sequencing and even whole assay design services, Bioline is ready with a full suite of tools to support the growing spectrum of stem cell research and application advances.