About Stem Cells

Adult Stem Cells 101

Although commonly used and accepted, the term "adult stem cells" is a little misleading, since these cells are actually found in infants and children as well as in adults. Adult stem cells produce the different kinds of cells that maintain the body’s tissues and organs, and, importantly, they have the ability to divide and reproduce indefinitely. These cells typically produce the type of tissue in which they are found. Adult stem cells are sometimes also called somatic stem cells.

Various types of adult stem cells have been identified in many organs and tissues. They range from cells that are able to form many different kinds of tissues to more specialized cells that form just some of the cells of a particular tissue or organ. Mesenchymal stem cells, for example, are adult stem cells that form fat cells, cartilage, bone, tendon, ligaments, muscle cells, skin cells and even nerve cells. In contrast, hematopoietic stem cells give rise to blood cells only (red cells, white cells and platelets), while neural stem cells form only cells in the nervous system.

Often confused with adult stem cell, progenitor cells are early descendants of stem cells that can differentiate to form one or more kinds of cells, but cannot divide and reproduce indefinitely.

Some tissues and organs have more adult stem cells than others. Those organs with fewer or no stem cells (the heart, for example) don’t readily regenerate when they are injured or diseased.

Scientists around the world are actively studying ways to isolate different kinds of adult stem cells, to control and expand the rate at which they make copies of themselves, and to learn how to direct them to form the specific cell types needed for treatment.

Learn more about adult stem cells by clicking on these links: