Ushering in a new era of tissue engineering research, 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.
The research team, which details the discovery in the April edition of the peer-reviewed journal Tissue Engineering, is the first to grow human tissue - bone, muscle, cartilage and fat - using stem cells harvested from fat. The team obtained the fat using liposuction.
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. 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 people.
"Until now, we had not identified a good source of stem cells, which can be thought of as the building blocks of tissue engineering," said Dr. Marc Hedrick of the UCLA School of Medicine's Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the research team's primary investigator. "Fat is perhaps the ideal source. There's plenty of it. It's easy and inexpensive to obtain. It even has a secondary cosmetic benefit.
"Our findings show that fat is not the tissue we once thought. Just as the Industrial Revolution transformed oil from trash to treasure, our research shows that unwanted human fat actually is a vigorous tissue with a tremendous amount of potential for good."
The researchers said the discovery could render the controversial use of fetal tissue obsolete.
"We don't yet know the limits for stem cells found in fat. So far, we have seen promising results with all of the tissue types we have examined," said Dr. Adam J. Katz, a memb
Contact: Dan Page
University of California - Los Angeles