New Adult Stem Cell Could Work Like Embryonic Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 2, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Adult Stem Cell Could Work Like Embryonic Stem Cells

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 2, 2005

Boston, MA ( — Researchers at Tufts University say they have made a discovery that could revolutionize the stem cell research debate. They believe they have discovered an adult stem cell that has the same potential as embryonic stem cells.

The scientists used specialized cell-sorting machines to obtain different types of adult stem cells from the bone marrow of three donors.

Tests on the cells show that they appear to be capable of changing into the many varied types of cells that make up the human body — a potential that has some scientists saying embryonic stem cells should be used despite the destruction of human life.

According to a Washington Post report, the bone marrow cells were injected into the hearts of rats who had experienced heart attacks.

Once inserted, some of the cells became new heart muscle and tissue, as adult stem cells have done before in numerous successful experiments. However, the cells also turned into new blood vessels to support the ailing hearts.

That’s exciting news to Douglas Losordo, the Tufts cardiologist who headed up the research team. They wrote about their discovery in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"I think embryonic stem cells are going to fade in the rearview mirror of adult stem cells," Losordo said, according to the Washington newspaper.

Other scientists were impressed with the discovery.

"This is a really very nice piece of work," James Battey, who heads the stem cell program at the National Institutes of Health, told the Post. "It’s very impressive, very interesting and I think very significant."

However, Battey and other scientists said that it was too early to abandon embryonic stem cell research and that the study was in its infancy.

Rates that were treated with the new adult stem cells in the Tufts research wound up with twice as many new blood vessels as those receiving a placebo treatment. They also had lower amounts of scar tissue, the Post reported.

Previous experiments have shown a certain type of adult stem cell is needed to produce both heart muscle and blood vessels. The report is the first to show that an adult stem cell can produce both.

University of Minnesota biologist Catherine Verfaillie has also been experimenting with the "new" adult stem cells. Her work has shown that the adult stem cells have the capability of turning into any kind of cell and not becoming tumors, as embryonic stem cells sometimes do.