Researchers discover adult stem cell that can transform itself into nearly any organ in the body

May 02, 2001

New Haven, Conn. - Adult stem cells that can create new liver, lung, gastrointestinal and skin cells, and possibly any other organ in the body, have been discovered in bone marrow, according to a newly-published study by a Yale researcher and collaborators.

"This is the closest adult derived stem cell to the embryonic stem cell, which can transform itself into any organ in the body," said Diane Krause, M.D., of the Yale Cancer Center and assistant professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at Yale School of Medicine. "The adult bone marrow cell, we have found, has remarkable plasticity."

The study was published in the May 4 issue of the journal Cell. In addition to Krause and Neil Theise, M.D., of New York University School of Medicine, co-principal investigators of the study, collaborators included researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Krause said the researchers had established in earlier experiments in mouse models that bone marrow cells could generate new liver cells, including both hepatocytes and cholangiocytes. They then demonstrated that this cell regeneration also can occur in humans.

"This was the beginning of a series of papers that showed this surprising ability of bone marrow cells to develop into tissues other than blood," she said.

The latest finding about the multi-dimensional capability of the bone marrow cell came about in an experiment in which female mice were irradiated and then transplanted with a single male-derived cell. The researchers then used the Y chromosome, a marker for male cells, to identify all of the progeny of that one cell from the male.

They found the male chromosome not only in the bone marrow and blood, as expected, but also in tissue from the lung, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, liver and skin.

"It's astounding that there are cells in our bone marrow that can become so many different cell types," said Krause. "The challenges now are to elucidate how these changes occur and to harness these findings to develop therapies for many different human diseases and injuries."

She stressed that the new findings do not mean that embryonic stem cell research should be abandoned. "Because this field is very much in its infancy, we need to keep working with embryonic stem cells. Our findings are very exciting, but, in order for the field of stem cell research to move ahead, work on both embryonic and adult-derived stem cells needs to be pursued," Krause said.
Co-authors of the paper were senior author Saul Sharkis, Michael Collector and Sara Neutzel, all of the Oncology Center at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Octavian Henegarui, Department of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine, and Sonya Hwang and Rebekah Gardner, Department of Pathology, NYU School of Medicine.

Yale University

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