Scientist examining specimen under microscope in lab.

What are Adult Stem Cells?

Looking into stem cell banking frequently leaves one confronted with a variety of terms that sound important, but may be unfamiliar: adult stem cells, hematopoietic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, etc. It can be overwhelming, particularly with all of the other necessary planning that goes into your growing family.  

Of these, the term that often causes the most confusion is “adult stem cells”, particularly considering how frequently stem cells are talked about in the context of newborns and cord blood banking. For clarity’s sake, adult stem cells are cells that have the ability to differentiate into different cell types in the body and can divide, or reproduce, indefinitely. That means there is more than one type of adult stem cell, and that they also exist in newborns and children, not just adults. 

So what does that mean in the context of stem cell banking? All of the cells that you may be considering banking – hematopoietic stem cells from cord blood, mesenchymal stem cells from cord or placental tissue, and amniotic epithelial cells from placental tissue – are adult stem cells. 

That does not mean that all of these stem cells differentiate into the same type of cells later on, or provide the same medical and therapeutic benefits.

Here’s a quick rundown of these different types of adult stem cells:

  • Cord blood stem cells, also known as hematopoietic stem cells, can become any type of blood cell. Cord blood banking – where a cord blood bank collects and stores the cord blood stem cells that can be found in the umbilical cord after it is clamped post-delivery – is such a popular decision because these stem cells can be used to treat a number of serious conditions, including leukemias and multiple sclerosis, with the list growing every year!
  • Mesenchymal stem cells are capable of differentiating into multiple types of cells and tissues, including organ and muscle tissue, skin, bone, cartilage, and fat cells. They are also easy to transplant and can be used for all first- and second-degree relatives, leading many physicians and researchers to believe that they will truly revolutionize medical practice. There are hundreds of advanced clinical trials worldwide focusing on using these stem cells to treat conditions including diabetes, organ diseases, and even Parkinson’s disease!
  • Amniotic epithelial stem cells are not banked as frequently as these other two cell types yet, but paired with mesenchymal stem cells that exist alongside them in placental tissue, already have important uses and are at the center of a great deal of promising research. And though these cells are not as widely banked or known as their counterparts above, current uses include the treatment of wounds, such as diabetic ulcers and surgical wounds, and eye conditions that can lead to blindness. But the potential is even more exciting, with treatments for conditions including cancers, organ failure, and even injuries to joints and the spine in the advanced clinical trial phase. And the best part is, just like mesenchymal stem cells, these stem cells are a safe match for other family members like siblings, parents, and even grandparents!

All of these sources of stem cells play a vital role in a baby’s development in the womb, but are typically discarded as medical waste after birth. These stem cells don’t have to be treated as a by-product – stem cell banking is an opportunity to instead process and bank these valuable cells in order to access the wide range of current treatment options.


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