Stem cell research has undergone huge advances in the past couple years. This does not mean, however, that researchers have not faced their share of problems. It has proved particularly challenging for scientists to ensure the long term proliferative ability and pluripotency of embryonic stem and germ cells.
These are important characteristics to maintain, as accurate models are necessary to understand the unique genetic and molecular basis by which these cells are able to replicate indefinitely. In addition to providing accurate models, culturing stem cells in vitro is is also necessary in order to ensure that sufficient quantities of stem cells are available to treat specific diseases.
Teratoma formation has also produced a hurdle that needs to be overcome. Formation of these tumor like masses of cells at injection sites significantly limit the therapeutic potential applications of embryonic stem cells.
Immune challenges also prove a significant barrier to the application of stem cell therapies. If the stem cells are recognized as non-self, they will be rejected and destroyed. Two potential solutions to this problem have been proposed. One solution is the creation of universal donor stem cells through genetic engineering techniques. Theoretically stem cells could be created that lack outer surface labels. The absence of these labels, which normally identify cells as non-self, would eliminate the problem of immune rejection. Another solution to immune rejection would be to engineer stem cells identical to the recipient's cells, using the patients own DNA. The former solution of universal donor stem cells, however, would prove less labor intensive and more cost effective, than the latter solution.
Adult stem cells have also presented unique problems of their own to researchers. In addition to proving challenging to maintain in culture, like embryonic stem cells; they have proven quite rare in adult tissues. Thus adult stem cells are very difficult to isolate and identify.
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