About Stem Cells

Stem cell science is an extremely fast moving field of research with new breakthroughs being reported almost daily. This swiftly changing landscape has seen many different stem cell types and technologies capture the public's imagination including embryonic stem cells, tissue stem cells, umbilical cord blood stem cells, and more recently, induced pluripotent stem cells. But what are stem cells and what makes them so interesting?

Human embryonic stem cells (Andrew Prowse) Stem cells are found in the early embryo, the foetus, amniotic fluid, the placenta and umbilical cord blood. After birth and for the rest of life, stem cells continue to reside in many sites of the body, including skin, hair follicles, bone marrow and blood, brain and spinal cord, the lining of the nose, gut, lung, joint fluid, muscle, fat, and menstrual blood, to name a few. In the growing body, stem cells are responsible for generating new tissues, and once growth is complete, stem cells are responsible for repair and regeneration of damaged and ageing tissues. The question that intrigues medical researchers is whether you can harness the regenerative potential of stem cells and be able to grow new cells for treatments to replace diseased or damaged tissue in the body.

To find out more about how stem cells are used in research and in the development of new treatments download a copy of The Australian Stem Cell Handbook or visit Stem Cell Clinical Trials to find out more about the latest clinical research using stem cells.

Stem cells can be divided into two broad groups: tissue specific stem cells (also known as adult stem cells) and pluripotent stem cells (including embryonic stem cells and iPS cells). 

Tissue specific stem cells are derived from, or resident in, adult tissues, and can usually only give rise to the cells of that tissue, thus they are considered multipotent. Embryonic stem cells, derived from a small group of cells in the early embryo (5-7 days), are undifferentiated and are considered pluripotent as they can become every type of cell in the body. Recently, scientists discovered that a mature fully specialised cell, for example a human skin cell, in the right conditions could be induced to mimic the characteristics of an embryonic stem cell. These are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).

To learn more about the different types of stem cells visit our frequently asked questions page.