What are stem cells?

What are stem cells?

Stem cells can be viewed as master cells that can give rise to all types of cells in the body. Generally, stem cells are classified as unipotent, multipotent or pluripotent according to their potential to differentiate. Stem cells can also be classified based on their source, for example, embryonic stem cells, foetal stem cells and adult stem cells.

What are adult stem cells?


Adult stem cells are unspecialised cells found in the adult body to assist tissue repair. They have a lower potential to give rise to different types of cells as compared to embryonic or foetal sources. However, adult stem cells do not have ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells or low harvest issues associated with foetal stem cells (e.g cord blood stem cells).


Stem cells differ from other kinds of cells in the body. They are special because of their ability to self-renew, duplicate, regenerate and repair.
Stem cells have two defining properties:

  • Capable of giving rise to all types of cells
  • Capable of self-renewing indefinitely

These defining properties make stem cells special. Stem cells are attractive as a means of therapy because in theory it can differentiate into any cells needed at the damaged or injured tissue. Therefore, it can provide repair and more importantly, restore tissue function.

Similarly with other types of treatment, stem cell therapy has a vast potential in the orthopaedic field. Many publications of scientific research have shown that stem cells have therapeutic effect on damaged cartilage, tendons, ligaments, bone and muscle. The difference with stem cell treatment is that besides repairing, it also has the potential to restore original structure and function of the damaged tissue.