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Powerful technique for multiplying adult stem cells may aid therapies

Adult stem cells may be free of the ethical concerns that hamper embryonic stem cell research, but they still pose formidable scientific challenges. Chief among these is the doggedness with which adult stem cells differentiate into mature tissue the moment they're isolated from the body. This makes it nearly impossible for researchers to multiply them in the laboratory. And because adult stem cells are so rare, that makes it difficult to use them for treating disease.

Now, researchers in the lab of Whitehead Institute Member and MIT professor of biology Harvey Lodish have discovered a way to multiply an adult stem cell 30-fold, an expansion that offers tremendous promise for treatments such as bone marrow transplants and perhaps even gene therapy.

"A 30-fold increase is ten times higher than anyone's achieved before," says Lodish, senior author on the paper, which will be published January 22 online in Nature Medicine.

Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells are generally tissue-specific, each one destined to develop into several kinds of cells. Chengcheng Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher in the Lodish lab, was determined to develop a way to multiply adult stem cells once they've been isolated from tissue. Achieving this goal required some intricate laboratory sleuthing.

Zhang began by studying adult hematopoietic--blood cell forming--stem cells. Offspring of some of these cells develop into all of the red and white blood cells, while others form the immune system. Using fetal tissue from mice as the source of these cells, Zhang discovered a population of cells that were not stem cells, yet appeared to interact with stem cells, preserving and allowing them to multiply in the fetal environment. When he isolated the stem cells in the lab and cultured them in a dish by themselves, they died. When he mixed them with these newly discovered cells, they thrived. But how did these new cells manage to sustain the stem cells s
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Contact: David Cameron
newsroom@wi.mit.edu
617-324-0460
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
22-Jan-2006


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