Embryonic stem cell

Human embryonic stem cells in cell culture
Pluripotent: Embryonic stem cells are able to develop into any type of cell, excepting those of the placenta. Only embryonic stem cells of the morula are totipotent: able to develop into any type of cell, including those of the placenta.

Embryonic stem cells (ES cells or ESCs) are pluripotent stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, an early-stage pre-implantation embryo.[1][2] Human embryos reach the blastocyst stage 4–5 days post fertilization, at which time they consist of 50–150 cells. Isolating the embryoblast, or inner cell mass (ICM) results in destruction of the blastocyst, a process which raises ethical issues, including whether or not embryos at the pre-implantation stage should have the same moral considerations as embryos in the post-implantation stage of development.[3][4] Researchers are currently focusing heavily on the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells, with clinical use being the goal for many labs.[5] Potential uses include the treatment of diabetes and heart disease.[5] The cells are being studied to be used as clinical therapies, models of genetic disorders, and cellular/DNA repair. However, adverse effects in the research and clinical processes such as tumours and unwanted immune responses have also been reported.[6]

Properties

The transcriptome of embryonic stem cells

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs), derived from the blastocyst stage of early mammalian embryos, are distinguished by their ability to differentiate into any cell type and by their ability to propagate. It is these traits that makes them valuable in the scientific and medical fields. ESCs are also described as having a normal karyotype, maintaining high telomerase activity, and exhibiting remarkable long-term proliferative potential.[7]

Pluripotent

Embryonic stem cells of the inner cell mass are pluripotent, meaning they are able to differentiate to generate primitive ectoderm, which ultimately differentiates during gastrulation 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 human body. Pluripotency distinguishes embryonic stem cells from adult stem cells, which are multipotent and can only produce a limited number of cell types.

Propagation

Under defined conditions, embryonic stem cells are capable of propagating indefinitely in an undifferentiated state. Conditions must either prevent the cells from clumping, or maintain an environment that supports an unspecialized state.[2] While being able to remain undifferentiated, ESCs also have the capacity, when provided with the appropriate signals, to differentiate (presumably via the initial formation of precursor cells) into nearly all mature cell phenotypes.[8]

Uses

Due to their plasticity and potentially unlimited capacity for self-renewal, embryonic stem cell therapies have been proposed for regenerative medicine and tissue replacement after injury or disease. Pluripotent stem cells have shown potential in treating a number of varying conditions, including but not limited to: spinal cord injuries, age related macular degeneration, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders (such as Parkinson's disease), AIDS, etc.[9] In addition to their potential in regenerative medicine, embryonic stem cells provide an alternative source of tissue/organs which serves as a possible solution to the donor shortage dilemma. Not only that, but tissue/organs derived from ESCs can be made immunocompatible with the recipient. Aside from these uses, embryonic stem cells can also serve as tools for the investigation of early human development, study of genetic disease and as in vitro systems for toxicology testing.[7]