Researchers find adult cells that mimic embryonic stem cells
December 12th, 2005
In a discovery that has the potential to change the face of stem cell research, a University of Louisville scientist has identified cells in the adult body that seem to behave like embryonic stem cells.
The cells, drawn from adult bone marrow, look like embryonic stem cells and appear to mimic their ability to multiply and develop into other kinds of cells, said Mariusz Ratajczak, director of the stem cell biology program at U of L’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, who led the research project.
The finding, presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology in Atlanta, was announced Dec. 12 at the society’s news conference.
Stem cells are naturally-occurring living cells that haven’t yet developed into the specialized cells that form body parts.
A study by Ratajczak’s team published last year in the journal “Leukemia” was the first to identify a type of stem cell in adult bone marrow that acts differently than other marrow stem cells. The newly-identified cells, called “very small embryonic-like” (VSEL) stem cells, have the same structure and protein markers as embryonic stem cells.
Ratajczak and several other researchers from U of L will present a paper Dec. 13 showing that VSEL stem cells mobilize into the bloodstream to help repair damaged tissue following a stroke.
His team also has grown VSEL cells in a lab and has stimulated them to change into nerve, heart and pancreas cells. If other scientists can duplicate the process on a larger scale, it could reduce the need for embryonic stem cells in research and eliminate rejection problems associated with using stem cells from an outside donor.
“We are very excited about the tremendous implications of this discovery,” Ratajczak said. “Our preliminary success in growing and differentiating these cells is very encouraging.”
Researchers worldwide have said that various types of stem cells hold great promise for understanding and treating a wide variety of diseases. They also could become a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues that could be used to treat such illnesses, conditions and disabilities as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, burns, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and arthritis. The use of embryonic stem cells, which can evolve into any type of cell in the body, has been surrounded by controversy.