Embryonic stem cell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Embryonic stem cells (ES cells) are pluripotent stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, an early-stage embryo.[1] Human embryos reach the blastocyst stage 45 days post fertilization, at which time they consist of 50150 cells. Isolating the embryoblast or inner cell mass (ICM) results in destruction of the fertilized human embryo, which raises ethical issues. Those issues include whether or not human lives at the embryonic stage should be granted the moral status of other human beings.[2][3]

Human ES cells measure approximately 14m while mouse ES cells are closer to 8m.[4]

Embryonic stem cells are distinguished by two distinctive properties:

ES cells are pluripotent, that is, they are able to differentiate into all derivatives of the three primary germ layers: ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm. These include each of the more than 220 cell types in the adult body. Pluripotency distinguishes embryonic stem cells from adult stem cells found in adults; while embryonic stem cells can generate all cell types in the body, adult stem cells are multipotent and can produce only a limited number of cell types.

Additionally, under defined conditions, embryonic stem cells are capable of propagating themselves indefinitely. This allows embryonic stem cells to be employed as useful tools for both research and regenerative medicine, because they can produce limitless numbers of themselves for continued research or clinical use.

Because of their plasticity and potentially unlimited capacity for self-renewal, ES cell therapies have been proposed for regenerative medicine and tissue replacement after injury or disease. Diseases that could potentially be treated by pluripotent stem cells include a number of blood and immune-system related genetic diseases, cancers, and disorders; juvenile diabetes; Parkinson's; blindness and spinal cord injuries. Besides the ethical concerns of stem cell therapy (see stem cell controversy), there is a technical problem of graft-versus-host disease associated with allogeneic stem cell transplantation. However, these problems associated with histocompatibility may be solved using autologous donor adult stem cells, therapeutic cloning, stem cell banks or more recently by reprogramming of somatic cells with defined factors (e.g. induced pluripotent stem cells). Other potential uses of embryonic stem cells include investigation of early human development, study of genetic disease and as in vitro systems for toxicology testing.

According to a 2002 article in PNAS, "Human embryonic stem cells have the potential to differentiate into various cell types, and, thus, may be useful as a source of cells for transplantation or tissue engineering."[6]

Current research focuses on differentiating ES into a variety of cell types for eventual use as cell replacement therapies (CRTs). Some of the cell types that have or are currently being developed include cardiomyocytes (CM), neurons, hepatocytes, bone marrow cells, islet cells and endothelial cells.[7] However, the derivation of such cell types from ESs is not without obstacles and hence current research is focused on overcoming these barriers. For example, studies are underway to differentiate ES in to tissue specific CMs and to eradicate their immature properties that distinguish them from adult CMs.[8]

Besides in the future becoming an important alternative to organ transplants, ES are also being used in field of toxicology and as cellular screens to uncover new chemical entities (NCEs) that can be developed as small molecule drugs. Studies have shown that cardiomyocytes derived from ES are validated in vitro models to test drug responses and predict toxicity profiles.[7] ES derived cardiomyocytes have been shown to respond to pharmacological stimuli and hence can be used to assess cardiotoxicity like Torsades de Pointes.[9]

ES-derived hepatocytes are also useful models that could be used in the preclinical stages of drug discovery. However, the development of hepatocytes from ES has proven to be challenging and this hinders the ability to test drug metabolism. Therefore, current research is focusing on establishing fully functional ES-derived hepatocytes with stable phase I and II enzyme activity.[10]

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Embryonic stem cell - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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