Stanford Research Shows Bone Marrow Cells as Effective as Embryonic

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 17, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Stanford Research Shows Bone Marrow Cells as Effective as Embryonic

by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 17, 2003

Standford, CA ( — Adult bone marrow cells can fuse with specialized brain cells, possibly bolstering the brain cells or repairing damage, according to research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

This finding helps resolve an ongoing debate: Do adult stem cells transform from bone marrow cells into other cell types, such as brain, muscle or liver cells, or do they fuse with those cells to form a single entity with two nuclei?

Some scientists say adult stem cells lack the ability to transform, which makes embryonic stem cell research more useful long-term. Pro-life groups say adult stem cell research is just as effective and cite numerous clinical studies where patients have already been cured or had the effects of diseases reduced.

Helen Blau, Ph.D., a Stanford professor who conducted the research, published in the Oct. 16 advance online issue of Nature Cell Biology, transplanted mice with bone marrow cells that had been genetically altered to produce a fluorescent green protein.

Over the course of the next 18 months (75 percent of a mouse’s life span), they looked for signs of fluorescent green cells in the animals’ brains. Over time, the group found an increasing number of brain cells that glowed green under a microscope.

David Stevens, MD, executive director of the Christian Medical Association says that other studies suggest that something in the damaged organ triggers adult stem cells to begin the repair process.

"The more important point is that adult/umbilical cord cell transplants work," Stevens said.

"How they work is not understood completely," Stevens explained. "They may secrete a substance that causes new cells to be formed, they may fuse with cells from the organ and proliferate or they may transdifferentiate. It may be all of the above."