In the spotlight. Ronald McKay (left) and Catherine Verfaillie (right) present new advances in stem cell research today.

Stem Cells Show Versatility, Power

Stem cells got a publicity boost on 20 June at a Minneapolis, Minnesota, press conference. One researcher reported on a new type of adult cell that appears to be as versatile as embryonic stem (ES) cells. Another reported progress in using embryonic stem cells to treat an animal model of Parkinson's disease.

Catherine Verfaillie, a blood stem cell researcher at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, described what could turn out to be a "universal" stem cell that isn't derived from embryos. Verfaillie calls them multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs). Her team harvested these cells from the bone marrow. The researchers found that MAPCs from rats, mice, and humans can be induced in test tubes to resemble cells in many types of bodily tissues, she said. Furthermore, if the cells are injected into early embryos, they later appear in "every organ" in the body--suggesting that they might be compatible with a body's every need.

Also featured was research spearheaded by mouse ES cell researcher Ronald McKay of the National Institute for Neurological Diseases and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland. His team cultivated dopamine-producing cells from mouse ES cells and injected them into rats with a version of Parkinson's disease. The treatment alleviated the animals' symptoms. Both reports appear in the 21 June issue of Nature online.

The evidence was there that dopamine-producing ES cells should treat Parkinson's disease in rats, but now "he's put it all together," says Ted Dawson of the Parkinson's Disease Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, of McKay's research. Reaction to Verfaillie's work was enthusiastic as well. She has shown that "the cells are stable and can contribute to a very broad spectrum of mature cell populations," says blood researcher John Dick of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

Related sites
Full Text of Papers in Nature (freely available)
Catherine Verfaillie's Research
Ronald McKay's Research Page

Posted in Biology