Stem cells – Glossary

Stem cell terminology

What is a ‘blastocyst’ and what does ‘omnipotent’ mean? New to the world of stem cells? Learn and review common abbreviations and definitions in the field of stem cells.

Need a reminder about key terminology for genome-editing? Explore common genome-editing terminology with our genome-editing glossary.


  • Adult Stem Cells: Stem cells found in developed tissues or organs that can generate cells specific to the tissue in which they reside.


  • Blastocyst: An early-stage embryo consisting of a hollow sphere of cells formed during embryonic development.


  • Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs): Stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst. They have the potential to differentiate into any cell type in the body.


  • Germ Cells: Cells that give rise to eggs or sperm and are capable of passing genetic information to offspring.


  • Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (hiPSCs or iPSCs): Stem cells generated by reprogramming adult cells, such as skin cells, into a pluripotent state.


  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs): Multipotent stem cells found in various tissues such as bone marrow, adipose tissue, and umbilical cord blood.
  • Myeloid Progenitor Cells: Progenitor cells that give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.


  • Neural Stem Cells (NSCs): Stem cells capable of generating the various types of cells found in the nervous system.


  • Oligopotent: Stem cells that can differentiate into a few closely related cell types.


  • Placental Stem Cells: Stem cells derived from the placenta that possess multipotent or pluripotent characteristics.
  • Pluripotent: Stem cells capable of differentiating into many cell types, but not all types of cells in the body.
  • Progenitor Cells: Cells derived from stem cells that have begun to differentiate but are not yet fully developed into specialized cells.


  • Sendai Virus: A type of RNA virus that can be used as a vector for delivering the Yamanaka factors into cells for the generation of iPSCs without integrating into the host genome.
  • Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT): A laboratory technique used to create embryos for therapeutic or reproductive purposes by transferring the nucleus of a somatic cell into an enucleated egg cell.
  • Stem Cell Microenvironment: The surrounding tissue and cellular environment that influences stem cell behavior, including proliferation, differentiation, and self-renewal.
  • Stem Cell Niche: Microenvironments within tissues that support stem cell maintenance and regulate their behavior.
  • Stem Cell Therapy: The use of stem cells to treat or prevent diseases or conditions by replacing damaged or diseased cells with healthy ones.


  • Teratoma: A type of tumor containing multiple tissue types derived from all three germ layers, often formed when pluripotent stem cells are transplanted inappropriately.
  • Totipotent: Stem cells with the potential to develop into any cell type in the body, as well as extraembryonic tissues such as the placenta.
  • Transdifferentiation: The process by which differentiated cells are reprogrammed to become a different cell type without first becoming pluripotent stem cells.


  • Unipotent: Stem cells that can only differentiate into one type of cell.


  • Wnt Signaling: Signaling pathways involved in regulating stem cell self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation.


  • Yamanaka Factors: A set of transcription factors (Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, and c-Myc) used to reprogram adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).