About stem cells

What are stem cells?

A stem cell is a cell that can develop into a specialised cell. There are many different types of stem cells that come from different places in the body and they are all formed at different stages in our lives.

Embryonic stem cells exist only during the earliest stages of development. These cells are the origin of all the cells in your body and can turn into any type of cell in the body.

While specialised cells like brain cells, liver cells and hart cells all have their own characteristic and function, an embryonic stem cell can still develop into any of those cells.

Some stem cells are already set on a certain path. We call these cells tissue-specific stem cells. For example, there are stem cells in your bone marrow that are already destined to become a type of blood cell.  But they can still  become a red blood cell, a white blood cell or a blood platelet, depending on what your body needs. There are also adult stem cells found in your skin, brain and gut. The adult stem cells remain in your body your whole life. They can help to repair tissues that are damaged.

Stem cells are defined by two characteristics:

  • They can self-renew: making copies of themselves over and over again 

  • They can differentiate: developing into more specialized cells

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How do we use stem cells?

Stem cells can be used to advance our understanding of human development and disease. 

Learn more about how stem cells and how they are used in medicine: