STEM CELLS: Between philosophy and biology
1- UMR8590, CNRS & University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
2- UMR1170, INSERM & Gustave Roussy
3- Adjunct Faculty Member, Center for Biology and Society, Arizona State University, USA
Stem cells play a critical role in the development, daily renewal, and reparation/regeneration of tissues. They are also involved in various diseases in particular cancers. Yet, there is a lot that remains to be understood about them and the traditional view is being increasingly debated. This is both a biological and a philosophical issue. Mixing both approaches, I will discuss the following questions: (1) What kind of property is stemness? I will show that stemness can be four types of properties depending on tissues and contexts (2) Does it matter? I will highlight practical consequences of each type of stemness for cancer treatment (3) Is stemness stable? I will review empirical data questioning stemness stability and suggesting that some cancers could be associated with a switch in stemness property. (4) Is stem cell a unified biological category? I will end with a perspective on how to handle the debate on stemness natural kind by mixing philosophy, experimental biology and phylogenetic analyses.