Researchers are to publish a study this week that suggests adult, post-natal, stem cells have the same ability to multiply as embryonic stem cells.
The team, from the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in the US, say that this previously unknown characteristic makes adult stem cells a potential treatment for everything from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease, while avoiding ethical concerns over embryonic stem cell use.
“This is really pushing the boundaries of science,” said Dr. Huard, director of the Growth and Development Laboratory at the Hospital and senior author of the study. “People say post-natal stem cells don’t proliferate very well, but this study demonstrates that this is not the case.”
The researchers show for the first time that post-natal stem cells, derived from mouse muscle, can undergo more than 200 population doublings, a level comparable to that of embryonic stem cells
“The entire world is closely following the advances in stem cell research.” Said Dr Huard. “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.”
Stem cell researchers are praising Huard’s work, but caution that care must be taken before adult stem cells can be used in a clinical setting. Dr Steven Minger, Director of the stem cell laboratories at Kings College, said: “Post-natal stem cells have tremendous potential to get around immune repression issues after transplant. However, they don’t have the same ability to differentiate into a wide variety of cell types as embryonic stem cells.”
Dr Brian Hendrich, of the Institute for Stem Cell Research, said: “If it is possible to transform adult stem cells so that they can proliferate well in culture, one would have to be very sure that they would not form tumours when injected back into an animal.”
The study is under consideration for paper of the year by the editors of the journal published by the American Society for Cell Biology.