28. Embryonic and adult stem cell therapy

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Stem cells are characterized by the ability to remain undifferentiated and to self-renew. Embryonic stem cells derived from blastocysts are pluripotent (able to differentiate into many cell types). Adult stem cells, which were traditionally thought to be monopotent multipotent, or tissue restricted, have recently also been shown to have pluripotent properties. Adult bone marrow stem cells have been shown to be capable of differentiating into skeletal muscle, brain microglia and astroglia, and hepatocytes. Stem cell lines derived from both embryonic stem and embryonic germ cells (from the embryonic gonadal ridge) are pluripotent and capable of self-renewal for long periods. Therefore embryonic stem and germ cells have been widely investigated for their potential to cure diseases by repairing or replacing damaged cells and tissues. Studies in animal models have shown that transplantation of fetal, embryonic stem, or embryonic germ cells may be able to treat some chronic diseases. In this review, we highlight recent developments in the use of stem cells as therapeutic agents for three such diseases: Diabetes, Parkinson disease, and congestive heart failure. We also discuss the potential use of stem cells as gene therapy delivery cells and the scientific and ethical issues that arise with the use of human stem cells. (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2003;111:S745-53.)

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