Stem Cell Awareness Day 2018

On Stem Cell Awareness Day, we’ve addressed some myths and facts about stem cells. Share your favorites on Twitter with #StemCellAwarenessDay!

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Oct 10, 2018

Every year, Stem Cell Awareness Day is a an opportunity for people around the world to highlight the fantastic research into and being enabled by stem cells, as well as draw attention to the effect stem cells have already had on human health. This year, we've decided to address some common misconceptions about stem cells.

You can share your favorites, as well as your own myths and facts, on Twitter with #StemCellAwarenessDay!

Myth: All stem cells are the same

Fact: False – there are many kinds of stem cell, which can be grouped by their ability to differentiate into other kinds of cells. They range from totipotent cells, such as those found in a zygote, which can turn into any kind of tissue, to pluripotent cells, multipotent cells, oligopotent cells and finally unipotent cells, which can only differentiate into a single cell type.

Learn more about cell differentiation>>

Myth: Embryos or fetuses are the only source of therapeutic stem cells

Fact: False – the most common sources of therapeutic stem cells are currently bone marrow1 and cord blood2, both of which are harvested safely from a donor. Other non-destructive sources of stem cells include amniotic fluid and organs such as the brain or intestines contain organ-specific stem cells.

Learn more about cord blood>>

Myth: You can turn cells into stem cells

Fact: True – cells can be induced to become pluripotent cells through the introduction of various transcription factors, such as the Yamanaka factors discovered in 20063, and using other molecules that mimic the effects of these factors, such as ALK5 and MEK inhibitors and certain recombinant proteins.

Learn more about induced pluripotent stem cells>>

Myth: Administered stem cells will always migrate to the site of injury

Fact: False – although cell naturally found in your body, such as mesenchymal stem cells, often migrate to injury sites in response to biomarkers of inflammation, this process is not well understood. Infused stem cells can have difficulty migrating due to site of administration, site of injury and short lifespan4.

Learn more about cell migration>>

Myth: Stem cell therapies are proven to work for everyone

Fact: False – although stem cell therapies have been shown to be highly effective for certain specific indications, such as some kinds of leukemia, these trials usually involve small numbers, and they don’t work on every patient. Factors such as the source of the stem cells, the age and health of the patient, indication, conditioning regime and genetics could all affect the success of a potential treatment, and we don’t yet understand why or how significant the effects could be.

Learn more about approved cell therapies>>

Myth: If clinical trials are listed on, the trial has been approved by the US government

Fact: False – the US National Library of Medicine, which provides, does not verify scientific validity of any of the 278,000 studies listed from over 200 countries. Responsibility for providing this information falls to the trial investigator, so potential patients should be careful and discuss all the options with their healthcare provider before participating.

Learn more about clinical trials>>


  1. Yan J-D, Cheng-Huang, Wang J-C, Feng X-M, Li Y-N, Xiao H-X. The isolation and cultivation of bone marrow stem cells and evaluation of differences for neural-like cells differentiation under the induction with neurotrophic factors. Cytotechnology. 66(6): 1007–1019 (2014)
  2. Ilic D, Miere C, Lazic E. Umbilical cord blood stem cells: clinical trials in non-hematological disorders. Br. Med. Bull. 102:1, 43–57 (2012)
  3. Takahashi K, Yamanaka Y. Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Mouse Embryonic and Adult Fibroblast Cultures by Defined Factors. Cell. 126:4, 663-676 (2006)
  4. Eggenhofer E, Luk F, Dahlke MH, Hoogduijn MJ. The Life and Fate of Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Front Immunol. 5: 148 (2014)
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Go to the profile of James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D.

True or False for Stem Cell Awareness Day 2018 is an excellent and needed RegMedNet feature.  There are many misconceptions about stem cells in the research space, and even more misinformation or lacking information in the stem cell industrial space.  These sometimes surprising deficits in knowledge and understanding inhibit progress in stem cell medicine  and stem cell commercial development.  Two leading ones are:

1. "There are molecular expression biomarkers that identify adult tissue stem cells exclusively (e.g., CD34, CD133, CD90)." False.  These misnamed "stem cell biomarkers" also detect committed progenitor cells that lack the unique asymmetric self-renewal property of adult tissue stem cells, which confers their ability to provide durable tissue restoration cures .

2. "Previously, it has been possible to count adult tissue stem cells." False.  Because adult tissue stem cells are a small fraction of the total cells in even their most enriched preparations and distinguishing tissue stem cells from more abundant committed progenitor cells has been impossible, previously, it has not been possible to count adult tissue stem cells.  Assays like the colony forming unit (CFU) assay give unreliable read-outs of both tissue stem cells and committed progenitor cells, with committed progenitors predominating.  Even the gold standard for estimating hematopoietic tissue stem cell (HSC) number - the limiting dilution SCID mouse repopulation cell (LDSRC) assay -  is a highly variable statistical method that conflates HSC quantity with HSC quality.   As a result of this tissue stem cell counting problem, tissue stem cell experiments are conducted without knowing the number of stem cells involved; approved and non-approved tissue stem cell treatments are administered without knowing the stem cell dose; tissue stem cell clinical trials are performed without being interpreted with respect to stem cell dose; manufactured tissue stem cells are produced inefficiently without optimization, supplied without reporting the number of stem cells, and sold without quality control;  and tissue stem cell instruments (e.g., "stem cell counters"), reagents (e.g., "stem cell growth medium), and tests (e.g., "stem cell assays") are sold with either erroneous or uncertain claims regarding counting tissue stem cells or effects of agents on tissue stem cells, respectively.

Increase awareness of the "tissue stem cell counting problem" is crucial to motivating adoption of emerging technologies for counting tissue stem cells specifically and accurately and for focusing more attention on the critical need for more innovation to solve this long-standing inhibiting problem in stem cell research and stem cell medicine.

James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D.

Director, Asymmetrex