Differentiation of Embryonic and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Pluripotent stem cells possess the capacity for indefinite self-renewal and the potential to differentiate into all adult cell types of the three primary germ layers. These features nominate pluripotent stem cells as a major component in the field of regenerative medicine due to their superior candidacy for the replacement of lost, damaged or diseased cells.

While embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are the most well-known type of pluripotent stem cell, the generation of ESCs from human embryos has resulted in a great deal of controversy. The introduction of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), has been a major breakthrough in the field of regenerative medicine as it allows for the generation of pluripotent stem cells directly from adult cells. This method circumvents the controversial use of human embryos, while also minimizing the risk of immune rejection as iPSCs generated from adult cells can offer an unlimited supply of autologous cells.

The use of ESCs and iPSCs in cell therapies and research does not only require their procurement, but also their in vitro differentiation into fully-functioning, specialized cell types. Differentiation can be influenced and controlled through exposure to specific chemical and physical signals. Common chemical signals can include the use of cytokines, growth factors, and small molecules, to either activate or inhibit specific cellular pathways to achieve the desired cell fate.

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