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Stem cells are pluripotent, self-renewing cells found in all multicellular organisms. In adult mammals, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing tissues.
They remain quiescent as undifferentiated cells within tissues or organs as long as tissue homeostasis does not require generation of new cells. Here, they can renew themselves or differentiate into some or all major specialized cell types that make up the tissue or organ.
In the developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all known specialized cell types, as well as maintaining the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues. In the lab, these embryonic stem (ES) cells are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts of preimplantation-stage embryos.
The development of humans from the embryonic stage may come to be better understood by studying how genes are turned on and off in ES cells. Several major health concerns, such as cancer and birth defects, are due to abnormal cell division and differentiation. A more complete understanding of the genetic and molecular controls that underlay these processes may yield information about how diseases arise and may lead to new therapeutic strategies through the directed control of cell proliferation and differentiation.
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