Stem cells are the first cells formed when an egg and a sperm join and the resultant zygote begins to divide. They are the precursors of all the different types of cells that make up the body, and are characterized by self-renewal – that is, the capacity to continue dividing to make ever larger populations of stem cells – and the capacity to differentiate into any mature cell type when they receive appropriate chemical instructions.
Several broad categories of stem cells exist, including embryonic stem cells (derived from blastocysts), fetal stem cells (obtained from aborted fetuses), adult stem cells (found in adult tissues), cord-blood stem cells (isolated from umbilical tissue), cancer stem cells (which give rise to a clonal population of cells that form tumors or disperse in the body), and animal stem cells (derived from nonhuman sources).
In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all of the specialized embryonic tissues. In adult organisms, stem and progenitor cells make up a repair system for the body, replenishing specialized cells. Of interest to researchers is the potential for using stem cells to treat conditions that include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders by replacing defective cells and tissues; ideally, they function as the raw material from which new populations of normal differentiated cells and tissues develop.
Additionally, stem cells can be used in pharmaceuticalresearch to improve drug target validation and toxicology screening.This is of intense interest to pharmaceutical companies because it offers a safer alternative to the use of living organisms (including humans) for some aspects of drug testing.
Stem cells are also being studied for their ability to improve both the understanding and treatment of birth disorders.
To facilitate the research resulting from interest in stem cell applications, a sizable research products market has emerged. Large companies selling stem cell research products include Invitrogen, BD Biosciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Millipore, although many other suppliers exist as well. Products offered by these companies include antibodies to stem cell antigens, bead-based stem cell separation systems, stem cell protein purification and analysis tools, tools for DNA and RNA-based characterization of stem cells, stem cell culture and media reagents, stem cell-specific growth factors and cytokines, tools for stem cell gene regulation, a range of stem cell services, tools for in vivo and in vitro stem cell tracking, and stem cell lines.
The major market for stem cells will be their use in the treatment of disease, and there is already a population of companies specializing in developing stem cells directed towards specific disease targets. This market opportunity is at an early, experimental stage.
The above is an extract from the BCC Research report, Global Markets for Stem Cells (BIO035D). To download the complimentary first chapter, please click here.