A Moment of Science

Stem Cells That Help Leukemia Patients

Can you name three types of stem cells in your body? Learn about the different kinds of stem cells in the body and how they can help treat leukemia.

A magnified stem cell

Photo: katjaja (Flickr)

Leukemia patients will sometimes receive treatment that involves having a stem cell transplant.

Embryos aren’t the ones with stem cells. We’ve got a few kinds of stem cells too, each with a different role.

The term “potency” is used to describe the capacity of cells to change, or differentiate, into different cell types when they divide. There are totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent, oligopotent and unipotent cells.

Fertilized Egg To Adult

For example, a fertilized egg cell as it divides makes every kind of cell in the human body. That one cell can create an entire person. So a fertilized egg is an example of totipotency.

Embryonic stem cells are almost as flexible. They can differentiate into almost any cell type, like lung, muscle, liver, skin or brain cells. But a single embryonic stem cell can never grow into an entire organism. This is an example of pluripotency.

Stem Cell Transplants

Sometimes, leukemia patients will receive treatment that requires them to have a stem cell transplant. When this occurs, they receive a donation of blood stem cells, like those found in bone marrow.

Blood stem cells are multipotent. They can make all the different blood cell types, like red and white blood cells or platelets. But they can’t create other kinds of cells. An example of oligopotency lurks in your lymph nodes. Lymphoid stem cells can produce a few, but not all, kinds of blood cells.

Finally, cells that only produce identical copies of themselves are called unipotent. Like skin cells, when they divide, they only make more skin cells.

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