Scientists: Adult Blood Cells Have Similar Traits as Embryonic Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 15, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists: Adult Blood Cells Have Similar Traits as Embryonic Stem Cells Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 15
, 2007

Minneapolis, MN ( — A new research report from scientists at the University of Minnesota shows that adult stem cells taken from bone marrow can replenish immune systems ravaged by radiation. They found the bone marrow cells can also make brain and liver cells in mice.

Dr. Catherine Verfaillie, of the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute, said that these adult stem cells can be grown indefinitely in the lab and show some of the same properties as embryonic stem cells.

"The cells not only survived when transplanted but they completely repopulated the blood system of the mice," Verfaillie said in a statement about the studies.

Verfaillie and her colleagues published the results of their studies in the Journal of Experimental Medicine showing that the adult stem cells can be manipulated and turned into a wide variety of other cells and tissues.

That’s the kind of ability that scientists backing embryonic stem cell research like.

The cells Verfaillie used are called multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) and she discovered them in 2001. Some scientists hailed them as a possible alternative to embryonic stem cells and a way to eliminate the debate about the use of those controversial cells, which can only be obtained by destroying human life.

But Verfaillie told Reuters that the debate continues despite a White House report last week that identified her work and the studies of other scientists looking into embryonic stem cell research alternatives.

"My research has been misused the whole time. There is a huge reason why we have to continue studying embryonic stem cells," Verfaillie said.

Still, a former skeptic now says the MAPCs have tremendous potential.

Dr. Irv Weissman, a Stanford University researcher who previously voiced skepticism, co-authored the new study with Verfaillie and said it’s "remarkable that [MAPCs] can give rise to blood cells.”

The study follows on the hells of news that scientists have been able to successfully manipulate stem cells found in amniotic fluid. Like the MAPCs, the amniotic cells have similar potential to embryonic stem cells.

Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University found the cells have the potential to grow into brain, muscle and other tissues without the resulting threat of tumors.

Already, humans with at least 72 different diseases and conditions have received therapeutic benefit from treatment with such "adult" stem cells. In contrast, embryonic stem cells have not been tested in humans for any purpose because of the dangers demonstrated in animal studies, including frequent formation of tumors.