Researchers grow stem cells from human skin

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have successfully isolated stem cells from human skin, expanded them in the laboratory and coaxed them into becoming fat, muscle and bone cells. The study, one of the first studies to show the ability of a single adult stem cell to become multiple tissue types, is reported today in Stem Cells and Development.

"These cells should provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for organs as well," said Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and senior researcher on the project. "Because these cells are taken from a patient's own skin, there would not be problems with organ or tissue rejection."

The research team grew mesenchymal stem cells, a type of stem cell normally found in bone marrow. Using tissue samples from 15 donors who had routine circumcisions, the scientists were able to isolate single stem cells, which they then grew in culture dishes in the laboratory. The scientists used hormones and growth factors to coax the stem cells into becoming fat, muscle and bone cells.

When the differentiated cells were seeded onto three-dimensional molds and implanted in mice, they maintained features consistent with bone, muscle and fat tissue. "Our study shows that stem cells can be obtained from a simple skin biopsy and can be made to become three vital tissues," said Shay Soker, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery at Wake Forest's School of Medicine, which is part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. "The bulk of our bodies is made up of fat, muscle and bone."

The promise of stem cells lies in their ability to develop into specialized types of cells and to replicate themselves. Scientists hope to harness the potential of stem cells and use them to replace damaged cells and tissue in conditions such as spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, stroke and burns.

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Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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