The North West Embryonic Stem Cell Centre

What are stem cells?

Hues7 Embryoid bodies day 7 of growth

Stem cells are unspecialised dividing cells. They divide to give further stem cells (self renew) but they can also produce progenitors of more specialised cells such as muscle, cartilage, pancreas, nerves or blood. Stem cells give rise to all the tissues of the body during development and allow for growth and repair in the adult organism. The stem cells that give rise to all the tissues of the fetus can be found in a small clump called the inner cell mass in the blastocyst and these cells give rise to embryonic stem (ES) cell lines. Specialised (differentiated) cells have only limited potential to divide and replace themselves. Instead, stem cells within a tissue divide to replace damaged cells and provide new cells for growth of the tissue.

Embryonic stem cells

Embryonic stem cells have important potential applications in new clinical therapies and are also useful as a model system for studying early development particularly for the human where experimental studies on embryos are not possible. Manchester has world class expertise in early murine and human development and this is informing innovative new research on derivation and regulation of embryonic stem cells. A number of groups are working on maintaining ES cells with a pluripotent phenotype and understanding their induction along pathways to early specified and committed cell types. We have major programmes studying targeted differentiation to cells such as pancreatic β-cells, and hard tissues such as cartilage. The relationship between embryonic stem cells and cancer is another important area where we have world class expertise. Understanding the regulation of embryonic stem cell differentiation and being able to reproduce it faithfully in vitro will have fundamental implications for human stem cell therapy.