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Definition: What are Stem Cells? Stem cells are undifferentiated or ‘blank’ cells found in the human body that have the potential to develop into many different cell types that carry out different functions. Most cells in the human body are differentiated. That means they are built to function in a particular organ system and carry out a specific function. A red blood cell, for example, is designed to carry oxygen, while a white blood cell is designed to fight off disease. These differentiated cells result from the process of cell division, a process that begins with undifferentiated stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells, found in embryos, can give rise to all the cells found in the human body – cells as diverse as those found in the brain, bone, heart and skin. Multipotent stem cells, found in adults or in babies' umbilical cords, have a more limited capacity. Their development is limited to the cells that make up the organ system that they originated from. For example, a multipotent stem cell in the bone marrow can develop into a red blood cell, a blood platelet or a white blood cell, but not into a skin cell or brain cell. Researchers believe that stem cells, especially pluripotent stem cells, hold much potential for medical therapies and medical research such as: •

Growing replacement cells or whole replacement organs. Human stem cells can be used to generate specialized cells in a laboratory and then be transplanted to replace damaged cells in the body. These could be used to treat a range of conditions from Parkinson disease to heart failure to spinal injuries. For example, in the case of a spinal injury, neural stem cells could be generated to replace damaged tissue. "Patching" organ...

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