Stem cells are cells that have the ability to convert themselves into other types of cells. They play a vital role in keeping the body in good repair. Stem cells develop in the embryo and remain in the body through adulthood. The nature of stem cells does, however, change over this time.

Embryonic Stem Cells vs Stem Cells in Adults

In very simple terms, embryonic stem cells are even more versatile than stem cells in adults. They can convert themselves into any type of cell. Stem cells in adults are more mature. As they mature they become less versatile.

Instead of being able to convert themselves into anything, stem cells in adults can only convert themselves into one of a range of specialist forms. That said, this is still an extremely useful ability with a huge range of medical applications.

What Type of Stem Cells are Found in Adults?

The answer to the question “what type of stem cells are found in adults?” depends on your point of view. You could say that stem cells are stem cells and hence that all stem cells in adults belong to the same type. Alternatively, you could say that adult stem cells generally convert themselves into one of five main forms, and hence there are five types of adult stem cells.

These are:

  • Epithelial Stem Cells
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells (Blood Stem Cells)
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells
  • Neural Stem Cells
  • Skin Stem Cells

Additionally, scientists are researching the possibility of essentially retraining adult stem cells to convert themselves into alternative forms. This research is in its very early stages but could open up even more exciting possibilities in the future.

Harvesting Adult Stem Cells

From a donor’s perspective, the process of harvesting adult stem cells is very similar to the process of donating blood. The donor will generally be given medication to stimulate the production of stem cells. This will typically be started around four days before the donation.

On the day of the donation, the donor will give blood in much the usual way. Medical professionals will then separate the stem cells from the rest of the blood. In contrast to regular blood donation, however, the rest of the blood is usually then returned to the donor.

Harvesting adult stem cells may be considered to be more ethical than harvesting stem cells from embryos. This is because an adult is able to give informed, active consent whereas an embryo is not.

Medical Uses for Stem Cells

There are two main areas in which stem cells are extremely useful. Firstly, they aid research into the medical conditions. Stem cells can not only help researchers to identify what triggers medical conditions. They can also be useful for testing potential new cures.

Secondly, stem cells can also be used in the area of regenerative medicine. This area of medicine essentially uses science to help the body’s ability to repair itself. Stem cells can be used to create replacements for damaged cells. Scientists are even looking at using them to create replacements for damaged organs.