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The present review
examines in the first place various kinds of naturally occurring stem cells,
including germ cells and embryonic stem cells (ES cells), as well as
haemopoietic stem cells, which are historically the first to be used for
medical treatment. Attention is also given to cancer stem cells, as a source of
perseverant malignant disease. The main interest is now represented by the
variety of somatic cells, which can be re-programmed to different types of
differentiated cells, the so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC’s).
Focus is now directed not only to the factors which make such events possible
like de-differentiation and reconversion but also to the stages involved in
this process. It is actually postulated that the transition from differentiated
cells to pluripotent cells follows a definite sequence with evidence of two
waves of gene regulations. Main applications of stem cell therapy are reviewed,
from the established use of haemopoietic stem cells for clinical
transplantation in a variety of haematological disorders to the initial
attempts to employ stem cells for the treatment of other disparate conditions.
Problems related to stem cell treatment with both ES and IPS cells, like the
necessity of a large in vitro expansion to provide sufficient
amounts of cells and the related risk of genomic abnormalities are illustrated.
The necessity of safe procedures for the development of this venture is also