Adult Stem Cells can Multiply, Come From Human Skin Research Shows

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 27, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adult Stem Cells can Multiply, Come From Human Skin Research Shows Email this article
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by Maria Vitale Gallagher Staff Writer
June 27, 2005

Pittsburgh, PA ( — Some adult stem cell success stories are raising new questions about whether there’s a need to explore unproven embryonic stem cell research.

In what’s being hailed as a groundbreaking study, scientists at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh have discovered that adult stem cells have the same ability to multiply as embryonic stem cells. The discovery means that adult stem cells could play an important therapeutic role.

Before this research, it was generally believed that embryonic stem cells had a greater capacity to multiply than adult stem cells.

“Scientists have typically believed that adult or post-natal stem cells grow old and die much sooner than embryonic stem cells, but this study demonstrates that is not the case," said Dr. Johnny Huard of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“The entire world is closely following the advances in stem cell research, and everyone is interested in the potential of stem cells to treat everything from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. But there are also many ethical concerns surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells, concerns that you don’t have with post-natal or adult stem cells. My belief is that this study should erase doubts scientists may have had about the potential effectiveness of post-natal stem cells."

The landmark research will be published in the July 1 issue of “Molecular Biology of the Cell," published by the American Society for Cell Biology.

Also, adult stem cells are far less likely to be rejected by a patient’s immune system than embryonic stem cells.

Meanwhile, researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine are reporting another breakthrough in adult stem cell research. The research team has managed to isolate stem cells from human skin, expanded them in the laboratory, and enabled them to become fat, muscle, and bone cells.

“These cells should provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for organs as well," Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, told the press. “Because these cells are taken from a patient’s own skin, there would not be problems with organ or tissue rejection."

Dr. Shay Soker, an associate professor of surgery at Wake Forest’s School of Medicine, added, “Our study shows that stem cells can be obtained from a simple skin biopsy and can be made to become three vital tissues. The bulk of our bodies is made up of fat, muscle and bone."

Adult stem cells have been identified not only in the skin, but in bone marrow, the brain, and blood from the umbilical cord.

“We’ve proved that the cells can be used to engineer tissues consistent with bone, muscle and fat when implanted in animals; now we need to test their function long term," Soker told the press.

Medical experts say adult stem cell research has achieved success in treating more than 58 different medical conditions, ranging from breast cancer to sickle cell anemia. In contrast, initial trials involving embryonic stem cell research, which involves the killing of human embryos, have been unsuccessful.