Researchers: Adult stem cells show more promise than thought

Miami HeraldApril 24, 2010 

A year after President Barack Obama eased restrictions on research into embryonic stem cells and pledged billions in new stimulus money for it, researchers are almost giddy with enthusiasm about progress in the field. They're confident stem cells will treat — maybe someday cure — heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury and other disorders.

But the excitement is not generated by stem cells harvested from human embryos.

Instead, researchers are coming to believe they can get results almost as good from adult stem cells taken from the patient's own bone marrow or belly fat, and even full-fledged adult cells from muscle tissue or skin.

"Adult stem cells have more flexibility than we thought," says Dr. Joshua Hare, director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. "The embryonic stem cell might not be the most valuable property in actual therapy. When you're treating a heart attack, you might do better with an adult stem cell."

Already at the UM Medical School, adult stem cells have been injected around a patient's heart to help heal a heart attack, and adult cells are being applied around injured spinal cords in hopes of restoring movement.

Another new development exciting researchers is the "induced pluripotent adult stem cell." Scientists at Harvard and in Japan took cells from the skin on a patient's arm and genetically reprogrammed them to be almost as flexible as embryonic stem cells — without destroying an embryo. They hope to use them someday to build up entire human organs, cell by cell.

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