Using human stem cells

Greg Foot explains the role of stem cells in humans and plants.

Stem cells can divide to produce new cells, which can then divide into different cell types. Stem cells therefore have the potential to be transplanted into patients to treat medical conditions and disease. They could be used to replace cells or tissues that have been damaged or destroyed, eg:

The stem cells used could be:

Embryonic stem cells can differentiate into a wider range of cell types, but are difficult to obtain. The best source is the five-day-old embryo.

Adult stem cells will differentiate into a narrower range of cell types. Bone marrow transplants are an example of an adult stem cell transplant. Bone marrow cells will differentiate into different types of blood cell. Bone marrow transplants are carried out:

  • in cases of blood cell cancer such as leukaemia and lymphoma
  • when blood cells have been destroyed by cancer treatment