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Stem cell overview

Stem cells are a type of undifferentiated biological cell with the unique ability to self-renew and differentiate. They are present in the adult body and during embryonic development. These cells can divide to produce offspring and have the potential to develop into different cell types with specialized functions, such as muscle cells and blood cells. Since stem cells have the exceptional capability to renew themselves, they serve as a repair system for the body. They can be removed from their source to be grown in vitro in stem cell media.

Types of stem cells

These can be broadly categorized into three groups:

1. Embryonic stem cells

These cells, abbreviated as ESCs, come from the inner cell mass of an embryo that has been fertilized in vitro and donated for research purposes following informed consent. Embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any cell lineage, so they’re pluripotent stem cells.

2. Adult stem cells

These cells, sometimes called somatic stem cells, are undifferentiated cells that come from a tissue or organ. Adult stem cells act as the internal repair system, which creates replacements for cells that are damaged or die because of disease, injury, or normal wear and tear. Adult stem cells are present in various places. Two of the more common types are hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which usually come from peripheral bone marrow or blood, and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which can be harvested from marrow and various other tissues. Because each of these subcategories can differentiate into a limited number of cell types, they’re called multipotent. HSCs can produce all the cells in the blood, and MSCs can produce fat or bone.

3. Induced pluripotent stem cells

Induced pluripotent stem cells, iPSCs, come from adult cells that are reprogrammed into an undifferentiated, pluripotent state. Typical sources are skin cells and blood cells.

Stem cell culture

In vivo, adult stem cells are found in a highly specialized microenvironment. For the peak proliferation of stem cells in artificial environments, in vitro cell culture requires optimized cell culture media, reagents, and culture conditions. Selection of stem cell media, reagents, and growth factors including cytokines have an impact on how well cells will differentiate towards well-defined phenotypes.

Since stem cells are diverse, there’s no universal optimal cell culture medium. Distinct stem cell types require varying culture conditions. Stem cell cultures often use serum-free and animal component-free (ACF) media.

What is stem cell media?

Stem cell media are specialized formulations that support the growth and proliferation of stem cells such as mesenchymal and hematopoietic. Various culture media types exist to promote either stem cell differentiation or expansion and maintenance of pluripotency.