Hair Follicle Cells Offer Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 12, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Hair Follicle Cells Offer Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
December 12,
2006

Madison, WI (LifeNews.com) — Scientists at the Medical College of Wisconsin have found what may be another alternative to embryonic stem cells. They have found that adult stem cells from hair follicles, which don’t involve the destruction of human life to obtain, are different from other types of skin cells.

The researchers recently identified the molecular signature of hair follicle stem cells called epidermal neural crest stem cells.

The college says the study resolves conflicting scientific opinions by showing that these cells are distinctly different from other types of skin-resident stem cells.

The MCW research team has reported their findings in a recent issue of Stem Cells: The International Journal of Cell Differentiation and Proliferation.

Epidermal neural crest stem cells are found in the bulge of hair follicles and have characteristics that combine some advantages of embryonic and adult stem cells, according to lead researcher, Maya Sieber-Blum, Ph.D.

Similar to embryonic stem cells, they have a high degree of plasticity, can be isolated at high levels of purity, and can be expanded in culture.

Sieber-Blum says the hair cells are similar to other types of adult stem cells, as they are readily accessible through a minimally invasive procedure and could lead to using a patient’s own hair as a source for therapy without the controversy or transplant problems associated with embryonic stem cells.
"We see the potential for cell replacement therapy in which patients can be their own donors, which would avoid ethical issues and reduce the possibility of tissue incompatibility," says Dr. Sieber-Blum.

The Medical College team in collaboration with Prof. Martin Schwab, director of the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zürich, recently injected these cells in mice with spinal cord injuries.

According to the study, when grafted into the spine, the cells not only survived, but also demonstrated several desirable characteristics that could lead to local nerve replacement and re-myelination (restoration of nerve pathways and sheaths).

Neural crest stem cells generate a wide array of cell types and tissues. The cells can be isolated from the hair follicle bulge as multipotent stem cells, and then expanded in culture into millions of cells without losing stem cell markers.

"We grafted the cells into mice that have spinal cord injuries and were encouraged by the results. The cells survived and integrated into the spinal cord, remaining at the site of transplantation and not forming tumors," Dr. Sieber-Blum says.

The transplant of embryonic stem cells have caused problems in animal research because they have formed tumors that would cause severe problems in humans.

Sieber-Blum points out that the hair follicle cells may also be useful to treat Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Hirschsprung’s disease, stroke, peripheral neuropathies and ALS. Certain defects of the heart, and bone defects could also be treated through neural crest stem cell replacement therapy.