Stem Cell Research Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Nick Rogers
Stem cells are a very popular topic of scientific research right now. These cells can become any kind of other cell in the body! Scientists believe they hold the key to treating many diseases. Learn all about stem cells in this lesson!

Building Blocks of Life

Cells are the basic building blocks of our body. All of the organs inside our bodies are made of cells, and they have very specialized functions. For example, liver cells look and act differently from kidney cells. Cells of all kinds can reproduce, but heart cells always become heart cells, and kidney cells always become kidney cells.

Stem cells, on the other hand, can become many different kinds of cells. In the human body, there are about 200 different kinds of cells! It's pretty impressive that stem cells can turn into all of these different kinds of cells - they sure do have a lot of potential!

Stem cells can become any kind of cell that our body needs.

The Two Main Kinds of Stem Cells

There are actually two different kinds of stem cells that scientists know about. Pluripotent stem cells are cells that form when our bodies are first developing. They have the potential to become any kind of cell! As the body develops, some cells become adult stem cells, which are more specialized. Adult stem cells usually only become certain kinds of cells. Even though they are called adult stem cells, these cells are actually found in both adults and newborns!

Both kinds of stem cells have two properties in common: they can reproduce themselves to make more stem cells, and they can differentiate, or transform into, different kinds of specialized cells when they are exposed to the right conditions.

Sources of Stem Cells

Pluripotent stem cells are found in embryos. Adult stem cells are commonly found in bone marrow and inside umbilical cords, but they have also been found in other tissues, like the brain. Normally, adult stem cells differentiate into the type of cell that makes up the tissue in which they're found.

There are dozens of types of specific stem cells that scientists can use in experiments. Since stem cells are always working to replace themselves, scientists can create an endless supply of them from only a few different collections of these cells.

How Do Stem Cells Work?

Stem cells receive signals from the chemicals inside your body that tell them what kind of cell they should differentiate into. There is a lot of research happening right now into what exactly causes stem cells to decide which type of cell to become.

All the cells in your body contain DNA, which is a chemical that encodes instructions for building any cell in your body. Depending on the signals that are present, different parts of your DNA will become activated. Once activated, the instructions in your DNA tell the cell how to develop into a specific kind of cell. This is the general process of determining what kind of cell a stem cell turns into.

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