Human Embryonic Stem Cells
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are capable of dividing for long periods of time and can give rise to specialized cells under particular conditions. Embryonic stem cells are a particular type of stem cell derived from embryos. According to US National Institutes of Health (NIH), in humans, the term "embryo" applies to a fertilized egg from the beginning of division up to the end of the eighth week of gestation, when the embryo becomes a fetus. Between fertilization and the eighth week of gestation, the embryo undergoes multiple cell divisions. At the eight-cell stage, roughly the third day of division, all eight cells are considered totipotent, which means the cell has the capability of becoming a fully developed human being. By day four, cells begin to separate and form a spherical layer which eventually becomes the placenta and tissue that support the development of the future fetus. A mass of about thirty cells, called the inner cell mass, forms at one end of the sphere and eventually becomes the body. When the sphere and inner cell mass are fully formed, around day 5, the pre-implantation embryo is referred to as a blastocyst. At this point the cells in the inner cell mass have not yet differentiated, but have the ability to develop into any specialized cell type that makes up the body. This property is known as pluripotency. As of 2009, embryonic stem cells refer to pluripotent cells that are generally derived from the inner cell mass of blastocysts.