Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey

Basic Science FAQs

What are stem cells?

Stem cells have the unique capacity to develop into many different cell types in the body, producing muscles, nerves, blood cells, or other tissues. They also exhibit the remarkable ability to self-renew.

GSBS website

Stem cells are precursors to an entire family of cells (referred to as a lineage). Embryonic stem cells have the potential to change into any type of stem cell (omnipotent). This process is known as differentiation. Stem cells can also replicate to form identical versions of themselves. This process is known as self-renewal. The figure depicts an embryonic stem cell undergoing self-renewal as well as the differentiation process. The two daughter cells are also stem cells; however, they are referred to as pluripotent stem cells since they are now committed to a particular lineage such as neuronal stem cells, muscle stem cells, vascular endothelial stem cells, or hematopoietic stem cells. As an example, hematopoietic stem cells (pluripotent) cannot create muscle cells derived from the muscle stem cells, but form all the variations of cells found in your blood.

What do stem cells do in the body?

Stem cells are the basic building blocks for all the specialized tissues that make up the body. They are primarily responsible for building, repairing and maintaining tissues and organs.

Where are stem cells found?

Stem cells are found throughout the body at all stages of life. Adult stem cells are found in bone marrow, the umbilical cord, the adult brain and spinal cord, skin, blood, intestines and other tissues. Embryonic stem cells are derived from blastocysts, 4- to 5-day old microscopic balls of cells fertilized in the laboratory.

Why should we study stem cells?

Stem cells offer the possibility of replacing damaged or diseased cells inside the body with healthy ones. They could make it possible to strengthen failing heart muscle, regenerate severed spinal cord nerves, replace damaged brain cells and cure many other currently incurable disorders such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, or arthritis.

What is the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells?

Adult stem cells are multipotent. This means they can become all the cells in a closely related family of cells. For example, bone marrow stem cells can become red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Recent research suggests that some adult stem cells may have greater potential to form different cell types than was previously thought.
Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. This means they can develop into any of the body’s cell types except those needed to produce a fetus. These cells are extremely versatile and are relatively easy to grow in culture.

Why do we need to study both adult and embryonic stem cells?

Research on both adult and embryonic stem cells provides important insights into how cells develop in normal tissues and what interventions might stop or reverse the course of disease. Adult stem cells, studied for more than 40 years, have proven successful in several treatments, including bone-marrow transplants for leukemia and other cancers. The more versatile embryonic stems cells were first isolated in 1998, and their potential for therapies is only beginning to be explored. Because stem cell research offers such enormous promise for curing disease and revolutionizing medical practice, scientists need to pursue all likely lines of inquiry.

What are some of the challenges facing scientists?

By better understanding the basic biology of stem cells, scientists hope to learn how to control the transformation of stem cells into the specialized cells a patient needs. They will also need to find ways to integrate the new cells seamlessly into the patient’s tissues and organs. In addition, scientists will have to counter possible tissue rejection by the patient’s immune system. Research, although very promising, is still at a preliminary stage.
What are the proposed ethical considerations for stem cell research?

The New Jersey Stem Cell Institute prohibits human reproductive cloning and will establish a committee to monitor practices and policies related to research conducted under the auspices of the Institute.

Where can I get more information?

Some useful Web sites with extensive information on the science of stem cells include:

Institute research FAQs

What will be the focus of institute research?

Initially, scientists will focus on neurological disorders and spinal cord injury. They will also engage in fundamental research to better understand how stem cells produce and repair the wide variety of tissues found in the body.

Will institute scientists study embryonic stem cells?

Institute scientists will study both adult and embryonic stem cells. Much of this research will be conducted on non-human stem cells derived from mice.
How will the institute ensure compliance with ethical guidelines?

The institute is committed to conducting responsible research. Institute researchers will follow the extensive policies and procedures outlined by national science associations, the federal government and the state of New Jersey to ensure that their research meets the highest ethical standards. For more information, see section on Science and Society.