What Is the Difference Between Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells?

What Is the Difference Between Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells?

The human body contains over 30 trillion cells, each of them with their own purpose and role. From blood cells to brain cells, there is a vast amount of cells that make up our composition. Among those, there is perhaps another type of cell many have heard of but do not know much about; the stem cell. These kinds of cells are found in the body of both an embryo and adults and are believed to be helpful when it comes to treating certain diseases and blood-related illnesses. But what are they, and more specifically, what different types are there?

Embryonic Stem Cells

As its name suggests, embryonic stem cells are ones that come from embryos when they are about 3 to 5 days old. At this stage, the embryo is called a blastocyst, which is a mass of about 150 cells. These stem cells are unique as they are pluripotent, which means they have the ability to divide into more stem cells or become any other type of cell in the body. It is because of this versatility that makes them fascinating and useful for regenerating diseased organs and bodily tissue.

Since these stem cells come from human embryos, collecting them is more difficult. A more recent method in doing so includes the banking of umbilical cord blood, which has been shown to include embryonic stem cells in trace amounts. In most cases though, they come from embryos that have been aborted or leftover from in vitro fertilization procedures, raising some to question the ethics of studying and using them. Luckily, stem cell research is not completely staggered by this obstacle, as adult stem cells can also prove to be a viable option, albeit with a few exceptions.

Adult Stem Cells

Adult stem cells can be found in small numbers and can be located and collected in most adult tissues, the primary source being human bone marrow. Like embryonic stem cells, these postnatal cells function similarly in the body but with limited ability to transform into various ones. The main purpose of these somatic cells is to replace ones that are at risk of disease or potentially dying. The two main defining characteristics of adult stem cells are their ability of self-renewal through cell division while remaining undifferentiated, and their multipotency to become other cell types.

So what is the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells? The key difference between embryonic and adult stem cells comes down to their likelihood of manipulation into new cells. It has long been believed that depending on where the stem cell is gathered from in the body it can only give rise to certain types of cells. For example, stem cells collected from bone marrow could only create blood cells, but new research has shown this is not entirely the case, as these cells could also create bone and heart muscle cells as well. This has helped give way to new clinical trials of stem cells treating patients with conditions like heart disease, looking at its effectiveness and safety.

Even though the availability of adult stem cells is widely available and not seen as controversial, they still limit research as they may not be as durable and versatile as embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are also likely to contain abnormalities in them as well due to environmental hazards, genetic defects, and cell replication errors. As research continues, however, scientists have found they could genetically alter and reprogram adult stem cells to have the properties of embryonic stem cells. This would help prevent immune system rejection and increase the viability of adult stem cells, though it is not known yet if this has any negative side effects.

What Can Stem Cells Treat?

Stem cells have already successfully treated patients through bone marrow transplants. These cells replace those damaged from chemotherapy radiation or other degenerative diseases. They could also be used in treating nerve and blood-related illnesses and cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma neuroblastoma. These cells come mostly from healthy adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood. Others that could benefit from regenerative medicine include patients with Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and those who have suffered strokes, burns, cancers, and heart disease.

As more research and evidence on stem cell therapy is conducted, the more their use in medicine can help improve and save lives. In the future, it may even be possible to clone stem cells using a person’s own genetic material which would help scientists understand how a disease develops. So, what is the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells? Well, the difference between both types comes down to versatility, and there is hope that someday it will become an important field in treating a myriad of illnesses.

If you are interested in learning more about preserving your baby’s stem cells, contact our team today. For nearly 20 years, AlphaCord has helped tens of thousands of families to preserve their newborn’s valuable stem cells through cord blood, cord tissue and placental banking.