Adult Stem Cell Research Discovery Could Change Entire Embryonic Debate

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 13, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adult Stem Cell Research Discovery Could Change Entire Embryonic Debate Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 13, 2005

Louisville, KY ( — Scientists at the University of Louisville say they have made a discovery of a certain kind of adult stem cell they say could drastically change the debate about embryonic stem cell research.

The researchers have reportedly found stem cells from adult mice to change into brain, nerve, heart muscle and pancreatic cells. The ability to take on the characteristics of other cells is the primary selling point for using embryonic stem cells, which can only be obtained by destroying unborn children in their earliest days.

The discovery could greatly expand the dozens of therapies and treatments already available from adult stem cells and the researcher say it could end the entire stem cell research debate.

"We have found a counterpart for embryonic stem cells in adult bone marrow. This could negate the ethical concerns," said Mariusz Ratajczak, leader of the research team and director of the stem cell biology program at the university’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

Ratajczak told the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper that the next step is replicating the experiment with similar cells from humans.

He calls the new cells VSEL cells or "very small embryonic like" stem cells.

His team announced the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in Atlanta. His team will present a paper today showing how the embryonic-like adult stem cells repaired damaged heart tissue in mice having strokes.

"It’s huge," Ryan Reca, one of the researchers, told the Courier-Journal. "It’s an amazing discovery."

If the VSEL stem cells in human act like the special ones they found in mice and other scientists can duplicate the process, the discovery goes from "very important" to "incredibly important," Dr. Stephen Emerson, chief of hematology/oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, where Ratajczak once worked, told the Louisville paper.

The research team says the VSEL cells also help overcome the problem embryonic stem cells have of patient’s immune systems rejecting the cells. A patient’s own VSEL cells could be used instead.