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Use of Marrow Widens

Stem cells become parts of other organs in mice

THURSDAY, May 3 (HealthScout) -- You think actor Jim Carrey is a chameleon? Try a bone marrow stem cell.

An animal study by doctors at Yale, New York and Johns Hopkins universities has found that a transplanted bone marrow stem cell can turn itself into cells that build numerous body organs, including the lung, liver, esophagus, stomach and skin.

Previously, scientists knew only that transplanted bone marrow cells could reproduce blood cells, a therapy used against cancer.

"The cell is unlimited in its potential," says Dr. Neil Theise, a pathologist at New York University School of Medicine and co-author of a study reported in today's issue of Cell. His co-authors are Diane Krause, assistant professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Yale University, and Dr. Saul Sharkis of the Oncology Center at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

To begin, the researchers transplanted bone marrow cells from male mice into the bone marrow of 30 female mice whose own bone marrow had been destroyed by radiation. The scientists then identified the male Y chromosomes in the cells to trace their growth.

After 11 months, five (17 percent) female mice had survived, and cells containing the specific Y chromosomes were found in tissues of the bone marrow, blood, lung, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, liver and skin.

Theise, whose specialty is liver pathology, then reviewed tissue slides from his human patients who had had bone marrow transplants and found that similar bone marrow stem cells had transformed themselves into the humans' liver tissue, as well.

"This is preliminary, but the excitement is that stem cells could provide cells for the reconstitution of organs. If we could figure out what factors command this stem cell to divide, [we could] have its offspring travel to injured organs and stimulate the body to repair itself," Theise says.

A number of recent studies have explored how stem cells can be turned into other cells, including a laboratory study that used stem cells from fat. Treated with growth hormones, the fat stem cells turned into cartilage cells. But Theise says his work is different in that he and his colleagues have isolated one stem cell that undergoes transformation in living tissue.

"This was transplanted into a natural, living organism … and suggests that this is what these cells do normally," he says.

"This is very exciting," says Geoffrey Erickson, a Duke University researcher who works with stem cells. "I think their main finding of how cells hone themselves [in]to an organ can prove very useful."

What To Do

This is very preliminary research and far from clinical trials that would lead to any medical application for people.

For an overview of current stem cell research for treatment of disease, go to the National Institutes of Health. For a description of stem cell research and bone marrow transplantation for treatment of leukemia, see The American Cancer Society.

You can also visit HealthScout for other articles about stem cells.

SOURCES: Interviews with Neil Theise, M.D., associate professor of pathology, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Geoff Erickson, Duke University Medical Center, Orthopedic Research Laboratory, Durham, N.C.; May 2001 Cell
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