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Types of Stem Cells: Explained (2024)

There are several different types of stem cells, each with its own unique properties and applications in medical research and practice.

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Types of Stem Cells: Explained (2024)

Louis A. Cona, MD
Updated on
Jun 5, 2024

There are several different types of stem cells, each with its own unique properties and applications in medical research and practice.

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Different types of stem cells possess unique capabilities that hold immense promise for understanding and treating various diseases.

This article explores the spectrum of stem cells, from totipotent cells, which can develop into any cell type, to unipotent cells with specialized functions.

Learn about the distinctive properties of these stem cells and the groundbreaking possibilities they present for medical research and treatment.

Types of Stem Cells 

Stem cells are distinguished by their ability to differentiate into various cell types. Understanding their types and subtypes is key to comprehending their potential in medical research and treatments:

  1. Totipotent Stem Cells: These have the highest potency, capable of developing into any cell type in the body, including placental cells. The zygote, a fertilized egg, is a prime example of a totipotent cell.
  2. Pluripotent Stem Cells: These cells can become any cell type except those required for fetal development. Their subtypes include:
  3. Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs): Derived from blastocysts, they can generate all body cell types ESC Research.
  4. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs): Genetically reprogrammed adult cells with similar capabilities to ESCs iPSC Details.
  5. Multipotent Stem Cells: Limited to developing into a certain range of cells, typically within a specific lineage. Examples include: Mesencymal stem cells, neural stem cells and hemetapoetic stem cells.
  6. Oligopotent Stem Cells: These cells can differentiate into a few related cell types, such as lymphoid or myeloid stem cells that develop into specific blood cells.
  7. Unipotent Stem Cells: The most limited in differentiation potential, producing only one cell type. An example is muscle stem cells, which exclusively differentiate into muscle cells.

The classification of stem cells is not rigid but fluid, reflecting the dynamic nature of ongoing stem cell research.

Totipotent Stem Cells

1) Totipotent Stem Cells

Totipotent Stem Cells are the most versatile and powerful stem cells, capable of differentiating into any cell type required for the development of a complete organism. These cells are present only in the earliest stages of embryonic development, laying the foundation for the entire organism's formation.

  • Early Presence: Totipotent stem cells are active during the initial cell divisions post-fertilization, prior to the blastocyst stage, setting the stage for all embryonic development More on Early Development.
  • Full Differentiation Capability: They have the unique ability to develop into every cell type, including placental cells vital for fetal development Placental Cell Formation.
  • Zygote: The most common example of a totipotent cell is the zygote, which forms from the union of an egg and sperm and eventually gives rise to every cell in the organism Zygote Information.

Pluripotent Stem Cells

2) Pluripotent Stem Cells

Pluripotent Stem Cells stand out due to their remarkable ability to differentiate into almost any cell type in the human body, barring those required for fetal development. Their versatility makes them a pivotal resource in biological research and holds immense potential for applications in regenerative medicine, disease modeling, drug screening, and in-depth mechanistic studies.

  • Types of Pluripotent Stem Cells: This category includes Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), each with unique origins and properties Pluripotent Stem Cell Research.
  • Origins and Reprogramming: ESCs originate from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, an early-stage embryo, whereas iPSCs are adult cells reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell-like state ESC and iPSC Information.
  • Neurobiological Applications: Pluripotent stem cells have been instrumental in neurobiology, particularly in generating key neuronal and glial cells of the brain, with emerging protocols enhancing the generation of specific neuron and glial cell subtypes Neurobiology and Pluripotent Stem Cells.

3) Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs)

Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) are a type of pluripotent stem cells that are extracted from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, an early-stage embryo before implantation. Their capacity to differentiate into any cell type in the body, barring those needed for fetal development, makes them exceptionally valuable in biological research, particularly in regenerative medicine, disease modeling, and drug screening.

  • Source and Derivation: ESCs are obtained from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, marking the earliest stage of embryonic development ESC Source Details.
  • Proliferation and Differentiation: They possess the unique ability to proliferate indefinitely while retaining the potential to form all body cell types ESC Proliferation Research.
  • Molecular Mechanisms of Differentiation: Understanding the molecular mechanisms that control ESC differentiation is key to leveraging their potential in areas like regenerative medicine ESC Differentiation Mechanisms.

4) Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) represent a groundbreaking advancement in stem cell research. These stem cell types are created by reprogramming adult cells to an embryonic stem cell-like state, iPSCs have the capability to differentiate into nearly any cell type in the body. This unique attribute positions them as a valuable asset in regenerative medicine, with significant potential for developing patient-specific therapies and advancing disease modeling.

  • Generation and Origin: iPSCs are developed from adult cells via genetic reprogramming, bypassing the ethical concerns associated with the use of embryonic cells iPSC Generation Process.
  • Biomedical Potential: Their ability to transform into any cell type makes them highly promising for biomedical applications, particularly in treating diseases where traditional therapies fall short iPSC Applications in Biomedicine.
  • Challenges in Application: Despite their promise, iPSCs face challenges like the low efficiency of cell derivation and the need to ensure the safety of reprogramming techniques Challenges in iPSC Development.

5) Multipotent Stem Cells

Multipotent Stem Cells are a specialized type of stem cell characterized by their ability to differentiate into a specific range of cells within a particular lineage. While they are less versatile compared to pluripotent stem cells, they are indispensable for the body's continual tissue renewal and repair processes.

  • Tissue-Specific Presence: These cells are found in various body tissues, including the heart, where they aid in myocardial regeneration, showcasing their vital role in organ-specific healing Heart Regeneration Research.
  • Lung Repair and Regeneration: In the lung, bronchioalveolar stem cells, a subtype of multipotent stem cells, are crucial for lung repair and regeneration, demonstrating their importance in respiratory health Lung Repair Study.
  • Periodontal Tissue Repair: Multipotent stem cells in the periodontal ligament can differentiate into various cell types like cementoblast-like cells and adipocytes, playing a significant role in periodontal tissue repair Periodontal Tissue Study.

There are 3 types of  stem cells with multipotent properties:

Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs)

A Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) is a type of stem cell (multipotent) found in various tissues such as bone marrow, fat tissue, and umbilical cord blood. Their ability to differentiate into diverse cell types, including osteoblasts, chondrocytes, myocytes, and adipocytes, underscores their importance in tissue repair and regeneration. MSCs are gaining attention for their potential in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

  • Diverse Sources: MSCs can be isolated from bone marrow, adipose tissue, and umbilical cord blood, offering a versatile and readily accessible source for both research and therapeutic use MSC Isolation Research.
  • Mineralization and Osteogenic Potential: They exhibit a pronounced ability for mineralization and osteogenic differentiation, positioning them as prime candidates for applications in bone and dental tissue engineering Bone and Dental Applications.
  • Immunomodulatory Properties: MSCs also display immunomodulatory properties, making them potentially useful in treating immune-related disorders and reducing inflammation across various disease conditions Immunomodulation Study.


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), as multipotent stem cells have multiple different benefits with immunomodulatory properties position them as promising candidates for advanced treatment strategies.

Benefits and Pros of Mesenchymal Stem Cells:

  1. Regenerative Potential: MSCs' versatility in differentiating into cell types like osteoblasts, chondrocytes, myocytes, and adipocytes makes them suitable for tissue repair and regeneration Regenerative Potential.
  2. Immunomodulatory Properties: Their ability to modulate immune responses highlights their potential as a therapeutic option for immune-related disorders and in reducing inflammation Immunomodulation.
  3. Availability: The ease of isolating MSCs from various sources enhances their accessibility for research and therapeutic applications MSC Sources.

Cons and Challenges of Mesenchymal Stem Cells:

  1. Mechanisms of Action: The intricacies of MSCs' mechanisms of action remain partially understood, posing questions about their therapeutic effectiveness and safety Mechanisms of Action.
  2. Homing and Targeting: Uncertainties exist regarding the targeting and homing capabilities of MSCs to specific tissues or organs Homing and Targeting.
  3. Safety Concerns: Safety is a paramount concern, particularly regarding the isolation, expansion, and administration techniques of MSCs in clinical settings

Applications of Mesenchymal Stem Cells

MSCs hold potential in treating a variety of incurable diseases due to their regenerative and immunomodulatory properties. Their applications extend to neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, immune-related conditions, and as innovative drug delivery vehicles, especially in RNA-based therapies.

Nonetheless, further research is crucial to overcome the existing challenges and to ensure their safe and effective use in clinical therapies MSC Applications in Diseases.

What conditions have Mesenchymal Stem Cells been used to treat?

Human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been used in many clinical studies for the treatment of immune and inflammation-related diseases, including the following:

  • Cardiovascular conditions: Various types of drug-induced ischemic cardiomyopathy, chronic heart failure, myocardial infarction, and atherosclerotic plaque.
  • Neurological conditions: Hypoxic-ischemic brain lesions, Parkinson's Disease, Stroke, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Orthopedic conditions: Osteochondral defects, Arthritis and Osteoarthritis.
  • Rheumatologic conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis,  polymyositis and dermatomyositis, and Sjögren's syndrome.
  • Endocrine diseases: Type 1 diabetes mellitus.
  • Autoimmune / Inflammatory conditions: Crohn's Disease, Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, Long COVID, Fibromyalgia, COPD, and other inflammatory lung conditions.

It is foreseen that mesenchymal stem cells will provide significant therapeutic benefits to many patients based on the results of the published studies and ongoing trials available.

Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs)

Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs) are a type of multipotent stem cell found in the bone marrow, known for their ability to generate all types of blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. They play a vital role in sustaining the body's immune system and blood supply, and hold significant therapeutic value for treating various blood disorders and cancers.

  • Bone Marrow Niches: HSCs are located in specialized HSC niches within the bone marrow. These niches are critical for maintaining and regenerating HSCs HSC Niches Study.
  • Niche Interaction: The interaction between HSCs and their niches is crucial, as the niche provides essential signals that regulate HSC survival, self-renewal, migration, quiescence, and differentiation HSC and Niche Interaction Research.
  • Therapeutic Transplantation: HSC transplantation is a key treatment for various blood disorders and cancers. The effectiveness of this treatment largely depends on the quality of the transplanted HSCs, underlining the importance of understanding HSC biology HSC Transplantation Insights.

What are Hematopoietic stem cells used for?

Many non-malignant (e.g., sickle cell disease) and malignant (e.g., leukemia, lymphoma) diseases are treated with HPCs, which replace or rebuild patients' hematopoietic systems. Bone marrow or stem cell transplants can treat patients with non-malignant and malignant diseases.

Clinical trials using HPCs for treating autoimmune disorders, genetic diseases, and other problems have been conducted under the supervision of the U.S. FDA. Here are some conditions for which stem cell transplants are an option:

Blood cancers 

Blood cancers cause uncontrolled growth of unhealthy cells in the bone marrow, the factory that makes blood cells. They can broadly be categorized as leukemias, lymphomas, and myelomas.

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

Non-blood cancers

Blood disorders, immune system disorders, and inherited metabolic disorders.

  • Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD)
  • Hurler syndrome
  • Krabbe disease (Globoid-Cell Leukodystrophy)
  • Metachromatic Leukodystrophy (MLD)
  • Severe aplastic anemia
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID)
  • Sickle cell disease (SCD) 
  • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS)

Neural Stem Cells (NSCs)

Neural Stem Cells (NSCs) are specialized multipotent stem cells located in certain areas of the brain, capable of self-renewal and differentiating into the brain's three primary cell types: neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. Their role is essential in both brain development and repair, and they hold considerable therapeutic potential for treating a range of neurological disorders.

  • Sources and Cultivation: NSCs can be derived from the embryonic and adult brain, as well as from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). They can be cultured in vitro while retaining their self-renewal and differentiation abilities, making them valuable for research and potential therapies NSC Cultivation Research.
  • In Vitro Advancements: The isolation, culturing, identification, and cryopreservation of NSCs in vitro are critical steps in producing viable neural stem cells for further studies and clinical trials NSC In Vitro Studies.
  • Clinical Relevance: NSCs are instrumental in studying normal neural development and various neurological conditions. They offer a potential source for cellular repair in the damaged or diseased central nervous system, making them clinically significant NSC in Neurological Research.

6) Oligopotent Stem Cells

Oligopotent Stem Cells are specialized stem cells with the capacity to differentiate into a few closely related cell types. While they offer less versatility than pluripotent and multipotent stem cells, they are integral to the body's tissue renewal and repair, particularly in adult organ tissues committed to specific cell lineages.

  • Ocular Surface Regeneration: These cells are found in the mammalian ocular surface, including the cornea, where they are capable of generating corneal and conjunctival cells, playing a key role in eye health and repair Corneal and Conjunctival Cell Generation.
  • Hematopoietic System Function: Within the hematopoietic system, oligopotent stem cells contribute to the production of a limited variety of blood cells, such as lymphoid stem cells differentiating into specific lymphocyte types Hematopoietic System Study.
  • Tissue Repair and Regeneration: These stem cells are crucial for replenishing specific cell types within their lineage, thus maintaining the health and functionality of various tissues Tissue Repair and Regeneration Research.

7) Unipotent Stem Cells

Unipotent Stem Cells are a unique type of stem cell that can differentiate into only one specific cell type. Despite having the most limited differentiation potential among stem cells, their ability to self-renew sets them apart from non-stem cells. Found in adult organ tissues dedicated to a specific cell lineage, unipotent stem cells are vital for the repair and regeneration of these tissues.

  • Mammary Gland Regeneration: In the mammary gland, unipotent stem cells, particularly long-lived Blimp1-positive luminal stem cells, are instrumental in driving organogenesis throughout adult life Mammary Gland Study.
  • Embryonic Mammary Gland Development: Notch1-expressing cells in the embryonic mammary gland display unipotent stem cell properties and maintain long-term plasticity, crucial for early breast tissue development Embryonic Development Research.
  • Tissue Maintenance and Repair: These stem cells play a key role in maintaining and repairing specific tissues by replenishing the single cell type they can differentiate into, thus ensuring the health and functionality of the tissue Tissue Repair and Health.

types of stem cells


Stem cell therapies represent a groundbreaking advance in the fight against a spectrum of diseases and age-related conditions. While these applications hold great promise, careful consideration of several factors is crucial before integrating stem cell therapies into mainstream medical practice.

  • Versatility and Potential: Various stem cell types, capable of differentiating into multiple cell types, offer opportunities for cell replacement therapies, tissue repair, and even organ development.
  • Track Record of Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs): HSCs have been at the forefront of stem cell research, with a history of use in clinical trials spanning over 40 years. Although widely used, they are still awaiting full approval for broader clinical applications.
  • Prominence of Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs): MSCs are among the most extensively researched stem cells. Originating from various body tissues, they exhibit a broad differentiation potential. MSCs have been pivotal in clinical trials for diseases like Heart Disease, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, and Diabetes, underscoring their significant role in regenerative medicine.

Stem cell therapies, therefore, stand on the cusp of revolutionizing how we approach treatment for many complex diseases and conditions associated with aging. However, ongoing research and development are essential to fully realize their therapeutic potential and ensure their safe and effective implementation in healthcare.

Learn More About Stem Cells

DVC Stem in the Cayman Islands offers advanced stem cell treatments, which may hold potential for managing various conditions, potentially including diabetes. Their patient-funded clinical studies and use of umbilical cord tissue-derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells are part of their innovative approach to regenerative medicine. Interested individuals should consult with their medical team to understand the applicability and potential benefits of their treatments for diabetes.



(1) Baykal, B. (n.d.). Mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of various diseases. Open Access Text. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from

(2) Zhao, X., & Moore, D. L. (2018, January). Neural stem cells: Developmental mechanisms and disease modeling. Cell and tissue research. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from

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