Studies Support Research Showing Adult Stem Cells Can Mimic Embryonic

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 20, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Studies Support Research Showing Adult Stem Cells Can Mimic Embryonic Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 20, 2006

Louisville, KY ( — Just one day after President Bush vetoed a bill funding embryonic stem cell research, saying adult stem cells were showing strong success, the University of Louisville reports that studies have confirmed its research showing adult stem cells can mimic the properties of embryonic ones.

In December, UL scientists say they discovered a certain kind of adult stem cell that can 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.

Now, scientists around the world are confirming UL’s breakthrough.

Dr. Mariusz Ratajczak, leader of the research team and director of the stem cell biology program at the university’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, says "a lot of people report the presence of embryonic-like cells in adults."

He told the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper that at least five other laboratories have discovered the same cells.

At the University of Illinois, researchers identified a similar embryonic-like stem cell in umbilical cord blood, and researchers in Germany and at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York have found them as well.

Ratajczak first discovered the very small embryonic-like cells," or VSELs, in his lab two years ago and they were considered rare and difficult to grow.

However, the newspaper reports that his team has changed that notion by taking bone marrow cells from adult mice, isolating the VSELs and growing them using a new process they’ve not yet divulged. They were able to change the VSEL’s into many other types of cells.

Within the next few years, Ratajczak says he wants to replicate the studies in humans using their adult VSELs. If they succeed, their research could lead to a host of therapies that wouldn’t have the same rejection issues embryonic stem cells do.

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," says Dr. Stephen Emerson, chief of hematology/oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, where Ratajczak once worked.