Just What is a Stem Cell Anyway?

A press release I stumbled across today pointed me in the direction of an interesting piece on the scientific definition of a stem cell. You'll have to pass through the gateway page for the Stem Cells and Development journal to read the PDF - click on the link for "Stem Cells: Shibboleths of Development" on that page.

... the Mouse replied rather crossly: "Of course you know what 'it' means."

"I know what 'it' means well enough, when I find a thing," said the Duck. ...

...

As the fields of development and stem cell research have evolved, different concepts have emerged in these two seemingly interrelated disciplines. As a result, developmental scientists view stem cells somewhat differently than clinical scientists, who have successfully used what they characterize as stem cells for therapeutic purposes. These latter pioneers include hematologists, who by demonstrating the reconstitution of an organ system with a single multipotent cell, have an undeniably strong claim to defining the concept of what constitutes the stem cell. Prior to, and, as will become evident, following this dramatic result, hematologists and developmentalists have viewed stem cells very differently; classifying stem cells as any that led to further development and differentiation. Consequently, the vernacular and rhetoric associated with any one journal claiming an interest in stem cell research has promoted only one of these paradigms.

Stem Cells and Development seeks to integrate the wealth of information the two disciplines provide and thereby close, or at least shrink, the gap between the two positions.

This sort of piece will become more common as research runs more rapidly than the process of accepting firm definitions and nomenclature. What is a stem cell? Is all stem cell research in fact using stem cells, or should we be calling some of these cells by a different name? Read the article and see what you think.

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