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Debate over Adult Stem Cells Continues

By Kate Ruder

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Stem Cells

One more study has jumped into the debate over whether adult stem cells can become any cell in the body, and it seems that, at least for the moment, no one is quite sure what is going on.

Stem cells in theory can become any cell in the body and therefore could be used to treat a variety of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes, if scientists can learn how to manipulate them.

While many researchers say that embryonic stem cells, those that come from a developing embryo, show the most potential to cure disease, others say that adult stem cells, those that come from the bone marrow, are just as promising.

It’s a politically-charged debate. If adult stem cells do everything that scientists want, then that could eliminate the controversial use of embryos as a source of stem cells. On the other hand, many scientists say that research on both types of stem cells is needed.

This has led to a number of studies in animals that have gone back and forth about what adult stem cells actually become when they are injected into tissue—and thus how much merit they have.

There is no consensus among the studies on adult stem cells. Some say that adult stem cells turn into other cells such as heart, brain, and liver cells. Others say that adult stem cells do not turn into other cells but instead fuse, or meld, to other cells (in some cases producing unstable cells that have extra chromosomes). Still others have found that adult stem cells do neither.

In the latest study, scientists report that adult stem cells injected into mice do not fuse, or meld, with liver, skin, and lung cells. Diane Krause of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, led the research that appears online in Science.

These findings won’t quiet the debate about stem cells, and there will likely be more studies down the road that will fall on both sides of the issue.

“This study restores scientific balance to the field of adult stem cell research,” says Neil Theise, a stem cell biologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. “These findings will help people who study adult stem cells continue to do research and receive more funding.”

Other GNN Stories about Adult Stem Cells
»Bone Marrow Stem Cell Trial Approved for Heart Patients
»Stem Cell Repair of Heart Tissue Questioned Again
»Stem Cell Transplants for the Heart Face Uncertainties
»Making Sense of Adult Stem Cells
»Stem Cell Study Raises More Questions about Therapies
»Stem Cells Found in the Heart
»Stem Cell Therapies: Time to Step Back or Forge Ahead
»Bone Marrow Stem Cells Heal the Heart
»What Makes a Stem Cell a Stem Cell

Harris, R.G. et al. Lack of fusion requirement for development of bone marrow-derived epithelia. Science 305, 90-93 (July 2, 2004).

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