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Glossary: Growth Factor

A substance (generally a protein, polypeptide, or peptide) that stimulates the differentiation, division, development, and maintenance of cells and the tissues they make up. Growth factors are signaling molecules released by certain groups of cells, e.g., lymphocytes, to influence the activities of other cells. Growth factors can be divided into families, e.g., platelet-derived GFs, transforming GFs, and angiogenic GFs. They are released normally during fetal and embryonic development, wound healing, and tissue maturation. Massive releases of GFs are characteristic of some types of cancer cells. Artificial GFs, e.g., granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, are used in health care to restore depressed levels of cells to normal values, e.g., in patients who have received chemotherapy.

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