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Stem Cell Research

E-Newsletter No. 22

I. Researchers Transform Human Fat Into Bone, Muscle and Cartilage.

Program News

    Scientists at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh have isolated fat as the first practical, plentiful and economic source of stem cells used to grow a variety of human tissues in the laboratory.


    Previously, stem cells for tissue engineering research had been harvested from bone marrow, brain, and fetal tissue, limited sources that pose a variety of logistical and ethical challenges.

    Until now, researchers had not identified a good source of stem cells, which can be thought of as the building blocks of tissue engineering.


    The availability of the plentiful source of stem cells will accelerate development of new procedures for repairing and replacing damaged, dead, or missing tissue in humans.

    The findings of this new research (detailed in the April 2001 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Tissue Engineering) indicate that fat is perhaps the ideal source of stem cells. There is an abundant supply; it is easy and inexpensive to obtain.

    This discovery could render the controversial use of fetal tissue obsolete.


    Immature and unspecified, stem cells are key contributors to the body’s ability to renew and repair its own tissues. They are unique in their ability to mature into two or more different types of specific cells, depending on their environment.

    Researchers grow different tissues in the laboratory by manipulating stem cell environments.

    Stem cells are already used as a treatment for leukemia and some joint repairs.

    With fat as a plentiful source of stem cells, researchers may be able to accelerate the pace of overcoming obstacles that prevent broader applications. These challenges include finding ways to supply blood to larger tissues, control growth and maturation, and eliminate scarring.

    Researchers expect the first practical uses for laboratory-grown tissues to enter the medical marketplace within the next five years or so. In the future, there is the potential for regenerating several different tissues including solid organs, glands, nerves or brain tissue.


II.  UCLA Physicians Perform First Skeletal Muscle Cell Transplant Into The Heart During Bypass Surgery in The Unites States.


Program News

    This experimental cell transplant procedure utilizing skeletal muscle cells may improve heart function without the risk of rejection, preclude the need for heart transplants in the future for some patients.


    If this procedure is effective, it could eventually be used on most of the 40,000 Americans who suffer from severe heart failure. Most such patients are on a waiting list for heart transplants, but only about 3,000 donor hearts become available each year.

    Heart cells do not regenerate so damage to the heart has been considered permanent. Skeletal muscle cells may help repair the heart muscle and improve cardiac function.

    The first patient to receive this experimental procedure in the United States was treated at UCLA Medical Center. This patient, a 65 year old male, had suffered three prior heart attacks, and had severe heart muscle dysfunction.

    UCLA physicians will continue to monitor how the muscle cells react and check this patient’s heart function for 24 months following the surgery.

    The technique has worked in animal studies and in safety trials in a small number of human patients.

    UCLA surgeons injected the muscle cells into the damaged area of the heart of this patient’s heart during the course of his bypass surgery.

    Skeletal muscle stem cells can be harvested through a simple biopsy in the leg or arm prior to a patient’s bypass surgery. The cells are cultured in the laboratory for ten to 12 days and then transplanted into the damaged area of the heart at the same time the patient undergoes heart bypass surgery.

    Myoblast cells are muscle cells that can divide. The advantage that they provide with this particular application is their ease of use, and the lack of ethical or practical issues (when compared to fetal tissue stem cells.) Additionally, rejection of the myoblast cells, grown from the patient’s own muscle, is not a problem.


Researchers at Jefferson Medical College have converted adult human bone marrow stem cells into adult brain cells. By experimenting with different combinations of growth factors and other nutrients, the investigators found a mixture of reagents that converted 100% of cells within an hour. Not only do the converted cells look like neurons but they also contain neuronal proteins, say the investigators. “The goal [of the work] is to find stem cells that we can differentiate into dopamine neurons to replace those lost in Parkinson’s disease,” said Lorraine Iacovitti, Ph.D. “The hope is that we won’t have to use embryonic stem cells and aborted fetuses for stem cell lines.” The team’s findings were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Neuroscience.

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