New Source of Stem Cells Found

I saw this story and had to post. I only hope that something meaningful towards cures can be developed in my lifetime and news like this tells me the changes are better than previously thought. I am only wondering what the right to life movement has to say about this development?

New Source of Stem Cells Discovered 01.07.07, 12:00 AM ET SUNDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) — Scientists on Sunday reported the discovery of a new source of human stem cells that have the capability to develop into many different types of cells, including muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells. These stem cells, found in amniotic fluid, could one day lead to a readily available supply of stem cells that don’t come with the ethical problems surrounding embryonic stem cells.“These cells are easier to get, and from acceptable medical procedures [for example, amniocentesis] that are done on a routine basis,” said study senior author Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

“This is another source of multi-potential cells,” added Paul Sanberg, director of the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair, in Tampa. “Because the cells can be accessed either post-birth or through amniocentesis, it’s possible that people could store those cells. If the cell lines that are created were available, then people could do some research on a non-embryonic source, which eliminates all the ethical and political issues.”

The discovery of the cells, known as amniotic fluid-derived stem (AFS) cells, is reported in the Jan. 7 issue of Nature Biotechnology.

The hope is that stem cells, which have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body, may one day yield treatments or cures for diseases such as diabetes, liver failure, spinal injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.

But embryonic stem cell research in the United States has been severely hampered since Aug. 9, 2001, when President Bush placed limits on federal funding of the field. As of that date, federal funds could only be used to study stem cell lines derived from embryos that had been destroyed before that date.

Scientists have thus been on a quest to find new, less controversial sources of stem cells. It’s been known for decades that the placenta and amniotic fluid contain a large number of cells shed from the developing embryo. “These cells could be harvested, grown outside the body and used,” Atala said.

Unlike “true” stem cells, however, these cells were predestined to grow into only one type of cell, or a limited type of other cells.

“We wanted to see if there was a true stem cell population within this fluid, pluripotent stem cells which could give rise to multiple cell types,” Atala explained. Pluripotent cells are capable of differentiating into many different types of cells.

After seven years of digging, Atala’s team found that 1 percent of the amniotic fluid cells were pluripotent. The newly discovered cells seem to possess characteristics that rest halfway between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Like other stem cells, they can self-renew and double in number every 36 hours. But unlike other stem cells, they do not produce tumors.

The stem cells could be harvested any time from the beginning of pregnancy until just after a baby is born, Atala said.

When nerve cells created from AFS cells were implanted into mice with a degenerative brain disease, the cells re-populated the diseased areas of the brain. Bone cells were also successfully grown into bony tissue in mice, and liver cells were grown that could secrete urea.

But it will be some time before any human benefit from these cells is seen — if it is seen at all, the researchers said.

“It’s a very nice paper, very good science,” said Dr. Darwin Prockop, director of the Center for Gene Therapy at Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. “But I can’t quite put a circle around the potential of the cells. They may be useful for some kinds of therapy but I don’t quite know where it’s going to go.”

Theoretically speaking, Atala said, a bank of 100,000 specimens could potentially supply 99 percent of the U.S. population with a perfect genetic match for transplantation. But human studies haven’t even begun yet.

“We don’t know what the extent of therapy will be with these cells,” Atala said. “Time will tell.”

More information The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on stem cells, including current official policy.

  4 comments for “New Source of Stem Cells Found

  1. Darin A. Schemmer
    January 8, 2007 at 2:40 pm


    Why would you want to know what the pro-life movement has to say about this development? As a pro-lifer, this is incredible news, once again proving that you can find researchable stem cells that don’t involve destroying the embryo to receive. Our only concern would be hoping for the most medically-effective and safe way to extract this fluid, without harming the fetus in the womb, but with Ultrasound, I think this extraction will accomplish utility and safety.

    The President has been consistent in praising the research accomplishments (something like seventy treatments) with adult stem cells and even stem cells that come from the umbilical cord, this is excellent news, but something tells me it won’t be enough for the destroy-the-embryos crowd, who absolutely need to play God for the fetal cells.

    The moral question is: should these scientists persuade Congress or gullible voters to force taxpayers to pay for research that could be marketed privately, cures that will be sold, but with research paid by the public? The President never outlawed private donations to fund any stem cell research, embryonic or adult.

    Contrast that to the power grab by liberals to write stem cell funding into state constitutions, sink California into $6 billion in debt for private and unaccountable research based on phony science, and run candidates that totally take the emotional, unproven side of the issue and give promises that even the cripples will walk again when you elect them!

    The real question concerns what the demagogues and anti-lifers will make of the development.

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    January 8, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Welcome to the blog Darrin.

    And thanks for some insightful comment. The president has been an impediment to stem cell research. The Missouri Senate race sought to portray Stem Cell research as cloning (Kurt Warner cut a spot saying that very thing).

    The public pays for defense contractors to develop technology and weapons that can take life, and they sell the technology back to the government, so you’re arguement on the government funding this research holds little water with me. Our government is actually the nation’s largest VC; taxpayer funded research is used in a variety of products and technologies.

    I don’t think stem cell research has been written into the state constitution, but it has been written into the state budget because Californiastands to gain good high paying jobs in the stem cell research industry.

    Back to the stem cells themselves; we’re talking about researching cells that are never going to become a child; cells destined for the trash heap.

    I believe God gave us many gifts on this earth; and one of them is to use our intellect to resolve our own problems. And stem cell research does not offer a cure. It offers hope. And how will we know the science is “phony” if we don’t research it?

  3. Darin A. Schemmer
    January 8, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks for the greetings; I’ve lurked a long time, but never felt solicited to provide an opinion (especially with my libertarian politics).

    Both stem cell research issues became constitutional amendments- Missouri’s Initiative 2 and California’s Proposition 71. Prop 71 in California (2004) became Article XXXV in the California Constitution, adopted November 2, 2004. My opposite to enshrining these as constitutional amendments comes from adding public policy and guaranteed funds (like Prop 98) to the guidebook of government limits. It’s not prudent to give eternal life to government programs or funding. Each year, the merits of that spending should warrant its extension, not some constitutional right to blow taxpayers’ dollars into ratholes.

    Both measures expressly prohibited using stem cell research bond money to fund human reproductive cloning, so that’s not an objection I’m making with this point. Folks like Warner took a clause that allows for “somatic cell nuclear transfer” to mean cloning, which the AMA and National Academies of Science recognize, which is protected in Missouri’s amendment. I think the whole process of harvesting the stem cells, by transferring a woman’s egg with other persons’ DNA, is akin to cloning, but that goes much beyond my formal education in the sciences, so I’ll leave it to the experts at the AMA. It doesn’t sound too far-fetched to use the Left’s arguments to justify cloning, with such a complicated clause in there, after all, it’s just a bundle of tissue, it’s for the common good, and you can just explain away slippery slopes!

    The U.S. Constitution allows as one of Congress’ powers “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” So Congress can reasonably find constitutional authorization to promote this progress and “useful arts” (take note, NEA), but I believe it’s “promote” (through patents) and not “provide” here. I think sending a man to the moon promoted science and curiosity, but the sheer wonder in doing so shouldn’t alone warrant spending a trillion to send a man to Mars.

    I personally want to spend lots of other peoples’ money to see if we can dig a hole to China. It would create jobs, be good for trade and business, satisfy my curiosity, and give “hope” to all the people in the world seeking to dig their way out of a bad situation. It hasn’t been proven to work, but hey, it’s not my money funding this scientific largess. Stop being an impediment to my pet projectegalitarian pursuit!

    The parallel with defense spending does not completely bear out to products that can not be sold to the public, like manufactured missile launchers, products that you can only entrust in national institutions with loyalty to the state. There are lots of consumer products that come out of the research process, but on principle, I oppose giving public money for R&D costs that should be raised by the Biotech investors themselves. Why pay for the product twice, just to speed it up? It’s similar to what’s happening now in Riverside County, we’ll be paying for highway tolls on roads already supposed to be built by our Measure A sales taxes.

    When do you ever see the repeal of a subsidy? People and businesses on the public dole always find ways to stay on it, especially in science, where more research money is needed for “further studies.”

    I share your optimism and hope for cures to prolong lives, but also realize that much of the debate on the stem cells that should be happening (as federal appropriations or more state debt) is not, but surrounded on the social aspects of this. Lowering everybody’s taxes would go much further in spurring innovation, look at all the gadgets that came out of the 1920s and 1980s as a result.

  4. Dan Chmielewski
    January 8, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Sorry, but as a member of the Left, I can’t recall advocating cloning as something on the list of things I am supposed to support. My comment on R&D spending for the defense industry applied to things like satellite communication from which we now get TV programming, telecommunicaitons, radio and GPS so I know when to turn left to get somewhere; there’s also a ton of nanotech dollars the government invested in things like paints and polymers that are marketed by commercial businesses today.

    As far as stem cell research goes, I think that a solid combination of federal and private funding can find safely harvested stem cells which can then be manufactured (is that the right word here) into something useful that could prevent, treat or cure diseases.

    Are there a lot of things that governemtn spends money on that I don’t care for (like the war in Iraq for instance). But on stem cell research, I want my government (fed, state, local) to use my tax dollars for this cause. The more were learn from stem cells through research, the less likely we are to call it a phony science.. you know, like that evolution theory.

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