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Stem cells glossary & taxonomy
Evolving Terminology for Emerging Technologies
Comments? Questions? Revisions? Mary Chitty
Last revised November 14, 2013
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adult stem cells:
Cells with high proliferative and self renewal capacities derived from adults. MeSH 2007

An adult stem cell is an undifferentiated cell found among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ that can renew itself and can differentiate to yield some or all of the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ.... Research on adult stem cells has recently generated a great deal of excitement. Scientists have found adult stem cells in many more tissues than they once thought possible. This finding has led researchers and clinicians to ask whether adult stem cells could be used for transplants. In fact, adult hematopoietic, or blood-forming, stem cells from bone marrow have been used in transplants for 40 years.   What are adult stem cells, NIH 2010 

There are stem cells in our bone marrow, brain, babies' cord blood, skin and liver - but few of them. They sit quietly until an injury, and then divide to become tissue to repair that part of the body. But some adult stem cells are more versatile. There are two sorts in bone marrow; one type can become blood cells and the other can become bone, fat, cartilage and connective tissue.  Medical Marvels, Sandra Boseley, Guardian 2009   See also somatic stem cell

cancer stem cells: Cancer stem cells have now been identified in a variety of tumor types, lending further credibility to the" cancer stem cell hypothesis," and the proposed role these cells play in tumorigenesis, metastasis and treatment resistance. Clinical candidates targeting cancer stem cells continue to show efficacy in the treatment of both solid tumors and hematological malignancies. Despite these leaps forward, questions remain around the biology of cancer stem cells, and how best to move forward toward novel therapeutics for cancer.
Targeting Cancer Stem Cells
Targeting Cancer Stem Cells February 13-14, 2014 • San Francisco, CA Program | Register | 

cell differentiation: Progressive restriction of the developmental potential and increasing specialization of function which takes place during the development of the embryo and leads to the formation of specialized cells, tissues, and organs. MeSH, 1966  See also differentiation  Related terms: induced pluripotent stem cells, multipotent, pluripotent, stem cells, totipotent

cell based therapies: Treatment in which stem cells are induced to differentiate into the specific cell type required to repair damaged or destroyed cells or tissues.  In Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013 [cited Thursday, November 14, 2013] Available at

There is no denying that cell therapy has the potential to be one of the most powerful therapeutic options available. Cell therapy can take several forms and serve many purposes including altering normal cell response, stimulating native signaling cascades, performing missing metabolic functions, restoring lost tissue, or changing the normal course of repair into true regeneration. Related terms: myoblasts, stem cell transplantation, stem cells;  Biologics cell therapy

chromatinomics:  The field of stem cell biology is currently being redefined. Stem cell (hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic) differentiation has been considered hierarchical in nature, but recent data suggest that there is no progenitor/stem cell hierarchy, but rather a reversible continuum. The stem cell (hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic) phenotype, the total differentiation capacity (hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic), gene expression as well as other stem cell functional characteristics (homing, receptor and adhesion molecule expression) vary throughout a cell-cycle transit widely. This seems to be dependent on shifting chromatin and gene expression with cell-cycle transit. The published data on DNA methylation, histone acetylation, and also RNAi, the major regulators of gene expression, conjoins very well and provides an explanation for the major issues of stem cell biology. … We are entering a new era of stem cell biology the era of chromatinomics. We are one step closer to the practical use of cellular therapy for degenerative diseases. Jan Cerny, Peter J Quesenberry, Chromatin remodeling and stem cell theory of relativity, J. Cell. Physiol. 201: 1-16, 2004   

differentiation: The process whereby an unspecialized embryonic cell acquires the features of a specialized cell such as a heart, liver, or muscle cell. Differentiation is controlled by the interaction of a cell's genes with the physical and chemical conditions outside the cell, usually through signaling pathways involving proteins embedded in the cell surface. In Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013 [cited Thursday, November 14, 2013] Available at   

In cancer, refers to how mature (developed) the cancer cells are in a tumor. Differentiated tumor cells resemble normal cells and tend to grow and spread at a slower rate than undifferentiated or poorly- differentiated tumor cells, which lack the structure and function of normal cells and grow uncontrollably. CancerNet   Related terms: multipotent, pluripotent, stem cells, totipotent
Narrower term: cell differentiation-
or is this equivalent?  Broader term: developmental biology

drug discovery stem cells in: In addition to enabling regenerative medicine, stem cell research promises to enhance drug discovery and development efforts by providing new tools to improve efficacy and toxicity testing, drug screening, novel target discovery, and understanding of disease mechanisms and pathways.  Stem Cells in Drug Discovery and Development  November 2-3, 2011 • La Jolla, CA Program | Register

Embryonic stem cells ES:
Cultured cells derived from the pluripotent inner cell mass of blastocyst- stage embryos. NHLBI 
Broader term: stem cells  Related term: hematopoietic stem cells

Executive Order (EO) 13505, entitled Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells  2009
President Obama's speech on stem cells, 2009 

fetal stem cells: Cells derived from a FETUS that retain the ability to divide, proliferate and provide progenitor cells that can differentiate into specialized cells. MeSH 2007

The development and formation of various types of blood cells. MeSH

hematopoietic stem cells: Progenitor cells from which all blood cells derive. MeSH, 1984

An unspecialized precursor cell that will develop into a mature blood cell. NHGRI  Related terms: embryonic stem cells, hematopoiesis, mesenchymal stem cells, multipotent, pluripotent, totipotent;  Broader term: stem cells

human embryonic stem cells hESc: A type of pluripotent stem cells derived from early stage human embryos, up to and including the blastocyst stage, that are capable of dividing without differentiating for a prolonged period in culture, and are known to develop into cells and tissues of the three primary germ layers. In Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013 [cited Thursday, November 14, 2013] Available at  

Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem cells, National Academy of Sciences, 2005  See also pluripotent stem cell research, human induced pluripotent stem cells

human induced pluripotent stem cells hiPS: Reprogramming differentiated human cells to induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has applications in basic biology, drug development, and transplantation. Human iPS cell derivation previously required vectors that integrate into the genome, which can create mutations and limit the utility of the cells in both research and clinical applications. Here, we describe the derivation of human iPS cells using non-integrating episomal vectors. After removal of the episome, iPS cells completely free of vector and transgene sequences are derived that are similar to human embryonic stem (ES) cells in proliferative and developmental potential. Junying Yu 1*, Kejin Hu 2, Kim Smuga-Otto 1, Shulan Tian 3, Ron Stewart 3, Igor I. Slukvin 4, James A. Thomson 5* Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Free of Vector and Transgene Sequences, Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1172482 published online March 26, 2009

induced pluripotent stem cells: A type of pluripotent stem cell, similar to an embryonic stem cell, formed by the introduction of certain embryonic genes into a somatic cell. Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010 [cited Monday, June 06, 2011  Wikipedia 

Mesenchymal Stem Cells MSCs
Cells that can develop into distinct mesenchymal tissue such as BONE; TENDONS; MUSCLES; ADIPOSE TISSUE; CARTILAGE; NERVE TISSUE; and BLOOD and BLOOD VESSELS . MeSH 2004   Related terms:  mesoderm, hematopoietic stem cells

A term that is currently used to define non-blood adult stem cells from a variety of tissues, although it is not clear that mesenchymal stem cells from different tissues are the same. Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010 [cited Monday, June 06, 2011  

mesoderm: The middle germ layer of the embryo. MeSH

multipotent—Having the ability to develop into more than one cell type of the body. See also pluripotent and totipotentStem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010 [cited Monday, June 06, 2011   

multipotent stem cells: Specialized stem cells that are committed to give rise to cells that have a particular function; examples are MYOBLASTS; MYELOID PROGENITOR CELLS; and skin stem cells. (Stem Cells: A Primer [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health (US); 2000 May [cited 2002 Apr 5]. MeSH 2003  Related terms: pluripotent stem cells, totipotent stem cells, unipotent stem cells  

neoplastic stem cells: Colony-forming cells which give rise to NEOPLASMS. They have properties similar to normal stem cells, i.e., high proliferative and self-renewal capacities.  MeSH 2008 (1984)

neural stem cells: A stem cell found in adult neural tissue that can give rise to neurons and glial (supporting) cells.  Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010 [cited Monday, June 06, 2011 

Despite the promise shown by antibody-based therapies, the large molecular size of antibodies limits their ability to efficiently penetrate solid tumors and precludes efficient crossing of the blood-brain-barrier into the central nervous system (CNS). Consequently, poorly vascularized solid tumors and CNS metastases cannot be effectively treated by intravenously-injected antibodies. The inherent tumor-tropic properties of human neural stem cells (NSCs) can potentially be harnessed to overcome these obstacles and significantly improve cancer immunotherapy. Intravenously-delivered NSCs preferentially migrate to primary and metastatic tumor sites within and outside the CNS. Therefore, we hypothesized that NSCs could serve as an ideal cellular delivery platform for targeting antibodies to malignant tumors. Neural stem cells as a novel platform for tumor-specific delivery of therapeutic antibodies, Frank RT et. al PLoS One. 2009 Dec 15;4(12):e8314. See also Drug delivery & formulation: blood brain barrier

pluripotent stem cells: Cells that can give rise to most types of cells but not all types of cells necessary for fetal development. (Stem Cells: A Primer [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health (US); 2000 May [cited 2002 Apr 5]. MeSH 2003

Cells able to develop into most specialized types of cells.  Broader terms: totipotent stem cells, stem cells; Narrower terms: induced pluripotent stem cells, multipotent stem cells

progenitor cells: 
A progenitor cell is a biological cell that, like a stem cell, has a tendency to differentiate into a specific type of cell, but is already more specific than a stem cell and is pushed to differentiate into its "target" cell. The most important difference between stem cells and progenitor cells is that stem cells can replicate indefinitely, whereas progenitor cells can only divide a limited number of times. Controversy about the exact definition remains and the concept is still evolving  Wikipedia accessed March 24 2011     See also fetal stem cells, hematopoietic stem cells, multipotent stem cells, totipotent stem cells 

somatic stem cells: Scientists also use the term somatic stem cell instead of adult stem cell, where somatic refers to cells of the body (not the germ cells, sperm or eggs). What are adult stem cells, NIH 2010 

Stem Cell Initiative: Pluripotent stem cells, including human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) afford a unique opportunity for investigators to address fundamental research questions of central interest to NIGMS. Since 2002, when NIGMS hosted its first Workshop on the Basic Biology of Mammalian Stem Cells, NIGMS has supported a series of initiatives and meetings to better understand the unique properties of pluripotent stem cells and to consider how these cells might be exploited as a model system to advance the study of basic research problems. National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH 

stem cell models: Drug development is a time and money consuming process. Stem Cell and 3D models that capture both the organization and multicellular complexity of the target provide the most powerful tool for screening the effects of therapeutic candidates. The development of functional screening models has: Reduced cost and time to identify new drug candidates. Driven more selective/ predictive screens for selection of compounds. Reduced animal testing. Yielded more predictive data. Improved efficiency. Decreased time to market.  Stem cells in drug discovery & development 2010 CD

stem cell transplantation: The transfer of STEM CELLS from one individual to another within the same species (TRANSPLANTATION, HOMOLOGOUS) or between species (XENOTRANSPLANTATION), or transfer within the same individual (TRANSPLANTATION, AUTOLOGOUS). The source and location of the stem cells determines their potency or pluripotency to differentiate into various cell types. MeSH 2003

stem cells: The new generation of stem cell research offers viable insights and resources of replacement cells to treat and reverse diseases, leading to regenerative medicine and ultimately personalized therapies. The primary objectives of Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s Stem Cells are the basics of regenerative medicine, including stem cell sources (embryonic, adult, cord blood or iPS) and technologies to harness their potential, pathways to deliver the new therapies, and translation of basic stem cell research into clinical applications. Stem Cells  February 23-25, 2011 • San Francisco, CA Program |  Order CD
Stem Cells

Commercialization of stem cells can help to treat an astounding variety of medical conditions. After a slow start, the stem cell age is finally poised to begin, as numerous factors converge to catapult stem cell technology into the medical mainstream. This report considers: the current state of stem cell science and technology  Supplies and services, Major applications of stem cell science, Sources of funding, regulatory hurdles, and the commercial outlook, IP challenges, public perception, bioethical concerns, and diversity in policies. Stem cell science is on the precipice of becoming big business. These enigmatic cells lie at the heart of a fledgling technology with great clinical promise.
Insight Pharma Reports, Stem cells come of age, 2008

Relatively undifferentiated cells of the same lineage (family type) that retain the ability to divide and cycle throughout postnatal life to provide cells that can become specialized and take the place of those that die or are lost. Includes Fibroblasts, Hematopoietic Stem Cells, Erythroid Progenitor Cells, Tumor Stem Cell MeSH, 1984 Related terms: Gene categories: pangenes  parthenotes. Narrower terms: embryonic stem cells, hematopopoietic stem cells, multipotent stem cells, totipotent stem cells, unipotent stem cells   Wikipedia: 

stemness: An extensive genetic comparison of different types of stem cells and terminally differentiated cells has revealed that hundreds of genes are likely to be involved in shaping the characteristic properties of stem cells. The studies show that embryonic, neural and hematopoietic (blood-cell-forming) stem cells seem to share a common genetic program that may be important for "stemness." These initial gene-profiling studies provide basic information about the nature of stem cells that should aid long- term efforts to induce stem cells to differentiate into cells that can be used to replace tissue damaged by disease or trauma. Gene Profiling Reveals the Essence of "Stemness", Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Sept. 12, 2002

totipotent: The state of a cell that is capable of giving rise to all types of differentiated cells found in an organism, as well as the supporting extra-embryonic structures of the placenta. A single totipotent cell could, by division in utero, reproduce the whole organism. In Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013 [cited Thursday, November 14, 2013] Available at

toxicity testing stem cells: The properties of human adult stem cell and pluripotent stem cells make them an attractive cell source for developing these in vitro models, and expectations have been high. Progress, however, has been slow Stem Cells in Toxicity Testing DVD November 4, 2010 •  Order DVD

unipotent stem cells: Stem cells that self-renew as well as give rise to a single mature cell type; e.g., spermatogenic stem cells. International Society for Stem Cell Research, Glossary, 2002   Related terms: multipotent stem cells, pluripotent stem cells, totipotent stem cells

Alpha glossary index

Institute of Medicine, Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine, Committee on the Biological and Biomedical Applications of Stem Cell Research, Board on Life Sciences, National Research Council, Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health, , 2002
International Society of Stem cell Research, Stem cell glossary,  2002, about 20 terms defined
International Stem Cell Research, NIH 2010 
MeSH Medical Subject Headings, PubMed 
Stem cell information
, NIH, 2012
NIH, Stem Cells Glossary  
Stem cell research funding
, NIH, 2010
US President's Council on Bioethics, Monitoring Stem Cell Research, 2004  

Insight Pharma Reports, Stem cells come of age, 2008

How to look for other unfamiliar  terms

IUPAC definitions are reprinted with the permission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

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