In simple terms, stem cells are the blocks on which the human body is built. They begin as unspecialized cells and develop into specific cells in different parts of the body; they are unique in their ability to develop in this way. These cells are also the earliest cells to develop in the human embryo and have the ability to reproduce, making them ideal for research with an aim to improve human health and treatment options.
How stem cells are collected
Stem cells are collected from various sources prior to being cultured in a laboratory. There are three main ways in which stem cells can be collected.
- In-vitro fertilization – For the purposes of couples conceiving through in-vitro fertilization, a great number of eggs is harvested from the woman. All of the eggs are fertilized and then frozen. In cases where not all of the eggs are implanted, the frozen embryos are often donated for research.
- Therapeutic cloning – Through this method, a cell from the patient awaiting treatment is merged with a donor egg.
- Umbilical cord blood – After the birth of a child, women are often asked for permission for the blood from the umbilical cord to be banked. The blood in the cord contains stems cells from the fetus. These cells can be harvested and developed into a range of cell types.
Culturing embryonic stem cells
The methods used to grow the stem cells vary depending on how the cells have been collected. Where therapeutic cloning is used, the egg needs to be encouraged to divide before stem cells can be cultured. The dividing process is stimulated by creating either a chemical or electric reaction.
Once the dividing process has been undertaken, the embryonic cells move through two different stages of development:
- Totipotent – at this stage the embryo contains around eight cells; these cells can be developed into any cell type.
- Pluripotent – this stage occurs between three and five days. There are around 100 cells, developed into a group known as a blastocyst. The stems cells at this stage can also be developed into a wide range of other cell types.
Stem cells are grown by first being removed from the blastocyst. They are then placed in a Petri dish with a nutrient-rich solution. As the stem cells continue to grow, they are divided into a greater number of dishes. The process continues for several months and, by the end, there will be millions of stem cells present within the Petri dishes.
Once the process is complete, scientists are looking for cells that have grown without differentiating. These cells create a stem cell line that can be frozen until it is needed for experimentation or the development of a specific therapy.
Culturing umbilical cord blood stem cells
While the same culturing process is used with this type of stem cells, there is one very specific difference between these and embryonic stem cells; umbilical cord stem cells are harvested at a much later stage of development. They are known at multipotent cells and can only be developed into a limited number of cells for use in therapies and treatments.
Cell culturing requires the right environment. Integral to this environment is the technology behind the process and high-quality solutions used. Biolamina provides a range of high-quality products.