Stem cell research is one of the most widely expanding areas of scientific research being conducted all over the world today. In basic terms, stem cell research is the research of stem cells; however in actuality is much more complicated. A stem cell is a cell with the ability to develop into any of the cell types that make up the tissues and organs of the body. This makes these cells highly useful and provides endless opportunities in the field of regenerative medicine.
There are two expansive lines of stem cell research, which involve multipotent stem cells and pluripotent stem cells. Multipotent stem cells are stem cells which can only specialise into cells of the same type of tissue, for example muscle stem cells can only become specialised muscle cells. This type of stem cell are known as adult stem cells and are found in the brain, muscles, skin, bone marrow and other fully developed parts of the body (see Appendix One for diagram). On the other hand, pluripotent stem cells can differentiate and specialise into any cell of the body (see Appendix Two for diagram). These are embryonic stem cells which are found in embryos that are five to seven days old. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist in Japan discovered that stem cells could also be generated from mature, fully specialised cells. These stem cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells, and are reprogrammed so that they can mimic embryonic stem cells and become every type of cell.
There is much difficulty in the research of adult stem cells, as they are hard to grow and differentiate under lab conditions, and there is still research being conducted with the induced pluripotent stem cells on the extent of their ability to differentiate, and whether they are still better at changing into their original specialisation even after being induced. There is a vast amount of research being conducted in terms of the way embryonic stem cells differentiate, and how stem cells can be used to prevent and cure a wide range of diseases. David Schaffer, Director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Centre at UC Berkeley says
“Our group is very interested in understanding first of all at a very basic level what are some of the mechanisms that control the differentiation of stem cells and how we can increase the scale of these processes so that we can begin to create large numbers of cells that would be needed to treat human diseases.”
His team is presently attempting to differentiate embryonic stem cells into the specific type of neurons lost due to Parkinson’s disease. Somewhat like David Schaffer’s team, the main goal of most of the embryonic stem cell research going on in the world today is to gain information on the elaborate events that occur during development and how undifferentiated cells differentiate and become specialised. As well as this, scientists also aim to gather a more complete understanding of the genetic and molecular processes that take place during abnormal cell division and...