Progenitor cells are cells with the capability of differentiating into several different cell types as needed. They are related to stem cells, but have more limited functions than stem cells. Laboratories work with these cells in the process of conducting research on cell differentiation and the use of various cells in medical treatments. These cells can be found in numerous locations within the body and are being produced all the time to keep up a continuous supply of fresh cells.
These cells are known as oligopotent or multipotent. This means that they are capable of developing and differentiating into several cell types, but not any cell type. By contrast, stem cells are totipotent, with the ability to differentiate into any cell type, or pluripotent, with the capacity to develop into a number of different types of cell. An example of a progenitor cell is an undifferentiated blood cell produced in the bone marrow. The cell could mature into any number of blood cells, but it cannot grow up to be another cell type like a muscle cell or a nerve cell.
The body uses these cells to replace cells as they are damaged or die naturally with age. Progenitor cells tend to mature slowly and they travel through the body to the locations where they are needed. Unlike stem cells, their ability to divide is limited. When people experience injuries, these cells can be triggered to start dividing and maturing to repair and replace damaged tissue.
For researchers, progenitor cells are a topic of interest in studies on how the body recovers and changes over time. They also have potential applications in medical treatment, along with stem cells. If undifferentiated cells can be introduced to a patient and encouraged to mature, it may be possible to repair damage the body cannot heal on its own and there is a potential to use such cells in a wide variety of treatments. Extensive research is needed to learn more about how these cells work and how they can be applied to medicine.
Numerous scientific supply companies make progenitor cells available for researchers. Their samples can come from human or animal origins and they are carefully controlled in the lab environment to ensure that they are pure. Researchers can use these prepared cells for their studies to save time in their studies by getting prepackaged cells rather than having to harvest and isolate them.