Adult Stem Cells (ASCs), by definition, are unspecialized or undifferentiated cells that not only retain their ability to divide mitotically while still maintaining their undifferentiated state but also, given the right conditions, have the ability to differentiate into different types of cells including cells of different germ-origin – an ability referred to as transdifferentiation or plasticity. In vitro, the conditions under which transdifferentiation occurs can be brought about by modifying the culture medium in which the cells are cultured. In vivo, the same changes are seen when the ASCs are transplanted into a tissue environment different to their own tissue-of origin. Though the exact mechanism of this transdifferentiation of ASCs is still under debate, this ability of ASCs along with their ability to self-renew is of great interest in the field of Regenerative Medicine as a therapeutic tool in being able to regenerate and replace dying, damaged or diseased tissue. Also known as somatic stem cells, they can be found in juvenile as well as adult animals and human bodies.
Scientific interest in adult stem cells is centered on their ability to divide or self-renew indefinitely, and generate all the cell types of the organ from which they originate, potentially regenerating the entire organ from a few cells. Unlike embryonic stem cells, the use of adult stem cells in research and therapy is not considered to be controversial, as they are derived from adult tissue samples rather than destroyed human embryos. They have mainly been studied in humans and model organisms such as mice and rats.
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