About Stem Cells – University of Copenhagen

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About Stem Cells

Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In many tissues, they also serve as a type of internal repair system, able to divide, essentially, without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell either has the potential to remain a stem cell or to become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.

Stem cells are distinguished from other cell types by two important characteristics. First, they are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through cell division, sometimes after long periods of inactivity. Second, under certain physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions. In some organs, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues. In other organs, however, such as the pancreas and the heart, stem cells only divide under special conditions.

Until recently, scientists primarily worked with two kinds of stem cells from animals and humans: embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic "somatic" or "adult" stem cells.  Scientists discovered ways to derive embryonic stem cells from early mouse embryos nearly 30 years ago, in 1981.

The detailed study of the biology of mouse stem cells led to the discovery, in 1998, of a method to derive stem cells from human embryos and grow these cells in the laboratory. These cells are called human embryonic stem cells. The embryos used in these studies were created for reproductive purposes through in vitro fertilization procedures. When they were no longer needed for that purpose, they were donated for research with the informed consent of the donor. In 2006, researchers made another breakthrough by identifying conditions that would allow some specialized adult cells to be "reprogrammed" genetically to assume a stem cell-like state. This new type of stem cell is known as an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC).

Somatic (adult) stems cells are relatively rare undifferentiated cells found in many organs and differentiated tissues, e.g. brain, skin, gut and bone marrow, with a limited capacity for both self renewal (in the laboratory) and differentiation. Such cells vary in their differentiation capacity, but are usually limited to cell types in the organ of origin.

DanStem will work with both embryonic, induced pluripotent and adult stem cell lines of rodent and human origin.

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