Stem cells are generally defined as cells possessing the following 3 characteristics: (1) self-renewal, (2) the ability to produce all cell types made in that tissue, and (3) the ability to do so for a significant portion of the life of the host (Alberts et al., 1989; Reya et al., 2001), while progenitor cells are capable only of multi-lineage differentiation without self-renewal (Weissman, 2000).
Stem cells can be classified by their ability to differentiate. The most primitive, totipotent stem cells have the ability to divide and produce all the differentiated cells in an organism, including both the embryonic and extraembryonic tissues of an organism. Totipotent stem cells include the fertilized egg and the cells produced by the initial divisions of it. In mammals, these cell divisions result in an implant in the uterus called the blastocyst. The blastocyst contains an outer sphere of trophoblast cells. Trophoblast cells are capable of implanting into the uterus and helping the form of placenta which provides nutrients to the embryo. Within the blastocyst are 10 to 20 pluripotent cells called the inner cell mass. In mammalian uterus, these inner mass cells will participate in the production of all tissues and organs of the developing embryo, then fetus, then born organism. Such pluripotent cells can produce any differentiated cells in the body, but are usually unable to form the trophoblast cells. The best-known pluripotent stem cell is the embryonic stem (ES) cell, which are obtained from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst and exist for only a brief stage of embryonic development. The last major class of stem cells, multipotent stem cells, gives rise to a limited number of cell types which are responsible for organ growth and renewal such as neural stem cells, skin stem cells and haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) (Cheshier et al., 2009).
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In 1981, Martin isolated a pluripotent stem cell line from early mouse embryos (Martin, 1981). Wilmut in 1996 first cloned a mammal, a lamb named Dolly by transferring nuclear from the adult mammary gland cell to an enucleated unfertilized egg (Wilmut et al., 1997). In 1998, Thomson obtained the first human embryonic stem cell line from human blastocysts (Thomson et al., 1998). In 2001, President Bush banned scientists from using federal funds to study stem cells from sources other than those that had already been grown because of the ethical concerns. To avoid ethical dispute over the use of human embryonic cells for research purposes, many efforts have been taken on obtaining pluripotent stem cells from differentiated donor cells.
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