Skip Navigation

Stem Cells

Author(s): Joseph G. Marx, Ph.D

Embryonic Stem Cells Can Become Any Tissue In The Body

Stem cell cultures grown in the laboratory may be used to generate specialized, differentiated cells. The most common method to induce embryonic stem cells to differentiate is to introduce growth factors or change the chemical composition of the surface on which they grow. For example, if the growth surface medium is treated in such a way that the cells cannot adhere to it, the cells float and begin to interact with each other. This cell-to-cell interaction, when combined with the introduction of specific growth factors (in vitro), can induce cells to differentiate along a specific pathway.  

In 1998, James Thompson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was the first scientist to keep human embryonic stem cells alive in the laboratory. Before this, scientists could harvest the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, but were able to keep them alive only for a very short time.