Promise of Stem Cells

The University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute (SCI) was the first institute in the country dedicated to stem cell research. SCI faculty members collaborate with many other areas in the University to understand how stem cells function and to lay the foundation for safe and effective treatments using stem cells. The SCI performs research and does not treat patients directly.

Cells are categorized as “stem” cells if they can give rise to indefinitely more cells of the same type and are capable of generating cells of several different types.


Types of Stem Cells

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are created by taking adult cells and reprogramming them to express genes that are active in stem cells. In this way they regain the ability to replicate indefinitely and to develop into most cell types of the body. For this reason, iPSCs made from adult skin cells could be used not only to repair the skin, but to repair a damaged heart muscle or liver. This technology is extensively in use at the University of Minnesota and is thought to be a highly promising option for many different patient therapies. An important potential advantage of using a patient’s own cells for treatment is that bodies do not reject their own cells. This reduces the risk and increases the possible effectiveness of using these cells.

Adult stem cells, found in the blood, bone marrow, muscle, and organs (for example, the brain, liver, fat and skin), are part of the body’s system to maintain and repair itself. The ability of adult stem cells to generate different cell types is usually limited to the type of tissue in which they reside.

Hematopoietic stem cells are the stem cells that give rise to blood cell types and are present in bone marrow, circulating blood, and umbilical cord blood. These cells have been transplanted for over 40 years in order to help patients who suffer from devastating bone marrow and blood diseases (such as severe aplastic anemia and types of leukemia) and some genetic conditions (such as Fanconi anemia). These cells are donated for a specific patient’s use by people who undergo a minor surgical procedure to remove them from the bone marrow or apheresis (a system that filters selected cells from the circulating blood). Umbilical cord blood cells are donated shortly after birth and removed from tissue that is otherwise discarded.

Embryonic stem cells are cells taken from a pre-implantation embryo and propagated in a dish outside the body. These cells can be expanded indefinitely and can mature to become most cell types of the body. Both animal and human embryonic stem cells are studied. All research on human cells at the University of Minnesota is performed using cell lines that were generated from fertilized, frozen eggs created for in-vitro fertilization and donated by people who wanted the eggs to support medical research rather than be discarded. These “cell lines” were created a number of years ago and are limited and regulated by the government. No state or US government funds are used for this research; it is entirely funded by private donations. We understand that human embryonic research is a controversial and sensitive matter and welcome civil dialogue about the legal, ethical, and moral issues of this research. All new research proposals using human embryonic cell lines must be approved by the human Embryonic Stem Cell and human embryo Research Oversight (ESCRO) committee. This committee has been set up in accordance with National Research Council guidelines to ensure that proposed research meets high standards for scientific merit and ethical justification before it can begin.

Learn more about types of stem cells

Current University of Minnesota Clinical Trials using Stem Cells: StudyFinder search for “stem cells”