There are HeLa cells, which were taken from sick cancer patient and now is growing worldwide in different laboratories for experiments. HeLa cells can be kept because they are immortal and so they are an instance of immortal cell line.

What about stem cells? They are also immortal. Such cells can be taken from normal healthy person and also kept forever. Do scientists do this? Why don't we hear about it then? For example, they are distinguished in Wikipedia article, referred above.

Are there some special properties of stem cell lines, making them different? For example, being low differentiated they may be useless for experiments.

  • $\begingroup$ Firstly they are not cancererous as other cell lines. Secondly under the right circumstances (cell niche, growth factors etc.) you would have an unlimited supply of normal healthy cells. Also because they are undifferentiated they are used for unravelling the components necessary for differentiation commitment to certain lineages. $\endgroup$
    – Wolgast
    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:25

1 Answer 1


This is too long for a comment, so I have to write it in here:

Mostly this is because other cell lines are more practical in the lab.

Stem cells are much more tricky to maintain - especially if you want to keep their stem cell properties. They only grow very slow, tend to differentiate when they get too much stress, cellular signals and so on and need special media (these need to be defined, so that they are not containing factors which promote differentiation for example).

For everyday experiments (like expression profiles, experiments on the effects of certain substances on the growth, gene expression or whatever of cells) "normal" cell lines are much more suited as these are much easier to keep in the lab using standard media. Additionally,experiments can be more easily repeated and reproduced, since these cells should behave always the same.

  • $\begingroup$ I would the to stress the 'should' in your last sentence, as it not uncommon for cell lines to be contaminated, mislabelled or wrongly annotated. (see article in Nature last week: nature.com/nature/journal/v520/n7547/full/nature14397.html) $\endgroup$
    – Wolgast
    Apr 23, 2015 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ This is written under the premise that the cell lines are identified by suitable methods and that this identity is controlled regulary. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. But from my point of view, keeping stem cells are of specific interest. For example, we can observe the process of aging, since some of aging theories say about stem cells depletion or damage. What if stem cell cultures live no more than 100 yrs? This would discover explicit lifetime limit hidden somewhere inside them... $\endgroup$
    – Dims
    Apr 24, 2015 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ There is a limit for normal somatic cells - it's called the Hayflick limit which happens due to the fact that the telomeres get shorter with every division and at some point active genetic regions will be shortened. However, this does not apply to stem cells (at least to current knowledge which is pretty solid here) as these cells have an active telomerase. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Apr 24, 2015 at 8:29

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