Due to intense interest in totipotent and pluripotent stem cells, unipotent stem cells have not received the same attention and research. They do, however, have vast potential to treat health conditions. A unipotent stem cell refers to a cell that can differentiate along only one lineage. The word ‘uni’ itself is derived from the Latin word ‘unus,’ meaning one. Found in adult tissues, a unipotent stem cell, in comparison with other types of stem cells, has the lowest differentiation potential. This means that the cell has the capacity to differentiate into only one type of cell or tissue, which is lower in potential compared to stem cells that give rise to a broad range of cell types. Although the unipotent adult stem cells in the body’s tissues will only give rise to one cell type, they do still have the important property of self-renewal that is shared by all stem cells. Also, despite their differentiation potential being limited, unipotent cells still have vast therapeutic potential to treat injuries and diseases.
How Are Unipotent Stem Cells Different From Other Cells?
A unique property of stem cells is their ability to differentiate, which means they can form specialized cells. Another special property is their ability to proliferate, or divide repeatedly. As mentioned, unipotent stem cells have a very limited ability to differentiate relative to other stem cells such as pluripotent, totipotent or multipotent cells. Their ability to self-renew, however, does make them a valuable candidate for therapeutic use in treating disease. They are thus able to generate healthy and viable cells for transplant purposes.
How Do Unipotent Cells Develop?
Unipotent stem cells arise from multipotent cells. A multipotent stem cell is one can develop into a limited number of tissue types and it arises from totipotent and pluripotent stem cells, which can give rise to almost any specialized cell in the body. A unipotent stem cell will start to differentiate and give rise to a specific stem cell. The tissue-specific cell will then provide functional and structural components to a body tissue or organ.
Benefits of Unipotent Stem Cells
Skin cells, which are in the epithelium, are one of the most abundant types of unipotent stem cells. The epithelium is the outermost tissue layer, which in itself has a top layer of dead squamous epithelial cells. This is similar to the mucus membranes that line our mouths and other body cavities. By taking a portion of a patient’s own undamaged skin stem cells, sheets of skin can be developed for transplanting over burned areas of the patient’s body. This technique is an important one for burn victims, particularly considering the pain and disfigurement that many burn victims are forced to experience during and after healing.
Unipotent Stem Cell Limitations
A major limitation of this technology, however, is that it is extremely time consuming. It can take several weeks to grow a sufficiently sized piece of skin. Skin is an initial barrier to disease so the pressure to promote healing and replace burned skin is high as well as very time sensitive. Improved research into the ideal conditions to encourage unipotent stem cell growth should hopefully ensure that the success of this form of therapy grows.