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Stem cells are primitive cells found in all multi-cellular organisms that are characterized by self-renewal and the capacity to differentiate into any mature cell type. Categorized by stage of life, several broad categories of stem cells exist, including:
- Embryonic stem cells, derived from blastocysts
- Post-natal stem cells, derived from newborn tissues
- Adult stem cells, found in adult tissues – including hematopoietic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, neural stem cells, and more
- Induced pluripotent stem cells, reprogrammed from adult cells
- Cancer stem cells, which give rise to clonal populations of cells that form tumors or disperse in the body
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Embryonic stem cells are stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, which is a stage reached four to five days post-fertilization. They are the most pluripotent of all stem cell types and can develop into over 200 different cell types of the human body. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) were first derived from mouse embryos in 1981 by Martin Evans and Matthew Kaufman, and independently by Gail R. Martin. In 1995, the first successful culturing of embryonic stem cells from non-human primates occurred at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Another breakthrough followed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in November 1998 when a group led by Dr. James Thomson developed a technique to isolate and grow hESCs derived from human blastocysts.
As such, embryonic stem cells are still a relatively new discovery, as the first mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) were derived from embryos in 1981, but it was not until 1995 that the first successful culturing of embryonic stem cells from non-human primates occurred and not until November 1998 that a technique was developed to isolate and grow embryonic stem cells from human blastocysts.
To facilitate research resulting from these advances, a large and diverse market has emerged for human embryonic stem cell products, platforms, and technologies. In total, the global sales of these items compose the hESC product marketplace. One thriving component of this marketplace is the segment of companies that sell hESC research products to scientists.
Termed “research supply companies” or “research product vendors”, large companies selling human embryonic stem cell research products include Life Technologies, BD Biosciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific, EMD Millipore, Sigma Aldrich, Lonza, R&D Systems, and STEMCELL Technologies, as well as more than 60 other suppliers that range in size from multinational corporations to small specialty companies. Together, these research supply companies represent a substantial annual percentage of hESC product sales.
As of 2013, the following product categories accounted for more than 85% of all global hESC research product sales:
- Embryonic stem cell culture products
- Embryonic stem cell lines
- Antibodies to embryonic stem cell antigens
- Bead-based embryonic stem cell separation systems
- Embryonic stem cell protein purification and analysis tools
- Tools for DNA and RNA-based characterization of embryonic stem cells
- Embryonic stem cell specific growth factors and cytokines
- Tools for embryonic stem cell gene regulation
- Embryonic stem cell services and mechanisms for in vivo and in vitro stem cell tracking
In addition, pharmaceutical companies also have intense interest in human embryonic stem cell product development. Because of their plasticity and unlimited capacity for self-renewal, hESCs have been proposed for use in a wide range of pharmaceutical applications, including:
- Drug target validation and testing
- Toxicology testing
- Tissue engineering
- Cellular therapies
- Personalized medicine
- And more
For this reason, development of hESC products by the pharmaceutical sector also represents a thriving segment of the global hESC product marketplace. Of particular interest to this community is the potential for use of hESCs to heal tissues that have a naturally limited capacity for renewal, such as the human heart, liver and brain.
Furthermore, within the pharmaceutical sector, development of new drugs is extremely costly and the success rate of bringing new compounds to the market is unpredictable. Therefore, it is crucial that pharmaceutical companies minimize late-stage product failures, such as suboptimal pharmacokinetic properties or unexpected toxicity that can arise when candidate drugs enter the clinical testing stages.
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