Stem cells are of great interest as doctors and researchers work to unfold their incredible potential. You may have heard of stem cells but perhaps are unsure exactly what they are and why they hold such incredible potential for medical discovery.

Stem cells are naturally occurring cells in our bodies that are responsible for repairing and restoring our tissues. There are two primary types of stem cells which are found in our bodies: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are responsible for the development of all of our bodily organs and systems at the very early stages of embryonic development. Adult stem cells are found throughout our body and are responsible for daily healing and growth.

Specialized cells in your body can regenerate and restore most tissues; for example, muscle tissue stem cells can only duplicate into additional muscle tissue cells. Stem cells are unique because, under the proper circumstances, they can replicate and grow into any specialized cell that your body needs. They have the potential to heal and restore your skin, nerves, muscles, bones, and much more. Adult stem cells can also be maintained in a controlled environment outside of your body. So you can see that the ability of stem cells to differentiate into the type of cells your body most needs for healing and growth is of particular interest to the medical community.

What if we could harness the power of these cells and apply them in a manner that specifically allows our bodies to heal from diseases or injuries? Today, doctors and researchers are working on doing just that — building a foundation to harness stem cell biology to address diseases and disorders that we once thought untreatable and opening doors for a new wave of medical treatment.

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The stem cell field represents an area of particular interest for scientific research. New therapeutic strategies have been made possible, thanks to great advancements in stem cell biology, with the aim to regenerate tissues damaged by injuries or diseases. Based on their ability to rescue and/or repair injured tissue and partially restore organ function, several types of stem cells or progenitor cells have been investigated. Stem cells (SCs) can be described as undifferentiated cells that are characterized by three fundamental abilities: proliferation, self-renewal, and differentiation toward multiple cell lineages. The differentiation process can be recognized by a change in cell morphology and by the expression of tissue-specific proteins. Adult stem cells have been identified in many organs and tissues, including the brain, bone marrow, peripheral blood, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, skin, teeth, heart, gut, liver, ovarian epithelium, and testis.

SCs can be isolated at the earliest stages of embryologic development (embryonic SCs) or from various adult tissues (adult SCs). Adult SCs can be obtained from specialized adult tissues, such as bone marrow, skin, and fat (where they act to renew cell populations and maintain tissue homeostasis) or help to repair the tissue in the case of injury. Within medicine, mesenchymal SCs (MSCs) have been extensively studied to understand their role in skeletal tissue development, physiology, and repair, as well as because of their promising therapeutic potential. MSCs are characterized by the capacity to differentiate into multiple types of skeletal tissues. They were first described as adherent, clonogenic, self-renewing, fibroblast-like cells (colony-forming unit fibroblasts) obtained from bone marrow. Subsequently, several studies were performed to identify other sources and to understand how these cells can give rise to distinct cell types to use these cells in regenerative procedures.