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Mayo Clin Proc. 2003 Aug;78(8):993-1003.

An overview of stem cell research and regulatory issues.

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Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, University of Florida Shands Cancer Center, Gainesville 32610, USA.


Stem cells are noted for their ability to self-renew and differentiate into a variety of cell types. Some stem cells, described as totipotent cells, have tremendous capacity to self-renew and differentiate. Embryonic stem cells have pluripotent capacity, able to form tissues of all 3 germ layers but unable to form an entire live being. Research with embryonic stem cells has enabled investigators to make substantial gains in developmental biology, therapeutic tissue engineering, and reproductive cloning. However, with these remarkable opportunities many ethical challenges arise, which are largely based on concerns for safety, efficacy, resource allocation, and methods of harvesting stem cells. Discussing the moral and legal status of the human embryo is critical to the debate on stem cell ethics. Religious perspectives and political events leading to regulation of stem cell research are presented and discussed, with special attention directed toward the use of embryonic stem cells for therapeutic and reproductive cloning. Adult stem cells were previously thought to have a restricted capacity to differentiate; however, several reports have described their plasticity potential. Furthermore, there have been close ties between the behavior of stem cells and cancer cells. True eradication of cancer will require a deeper understanding of stem cell biology. This article was written to inform medical scientists and practicing clinicians across the spectrum of medical education about the research and regulatory issues affecting the future of stem cell therapy.

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