Scientists Use Adult Stem Cells to Create Healthy Mice

Alan Mozes of BusinessWeek’s HealthDay reports on a milestone in stem cell research. Chinese scientists have grown healthy, fertile mice by using pluripotent stem cells (iPS) derived not from controversial embryonic stem cells, but instead from those of adult mice.

The successful birth of a mouse, named Tiny, "demonstrates the practicality of using iPS cells for cellular regeneration," said Fanyi Zeng, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and associate director of the Shanghai Institute of Medical Genetics at Shanghai Children's Hospital.

Scientists artificially reprogram adult stem cells in order to create iPS cells. This makes them remarkably similar in (if not identical) to embryonic stem cells, the Chinese researchers said.

Theoretically, these iPS cells could serve as an alternative to more controversial embryonic stem cells, whose natural therapeutic potential lies in their ability to develop in to the cellular material of any number of muscles, tissues and organs, as well as blood and bone.

More stem cell research, including exploring a range of alternative stem cell methods, is underway. For now, the study will continue to focus only on animals.  Zeng acknowledged, however, "that some of the mouse studies will have some potential application in humans," and "this gives us hope for future therapeutic interventions, using patients' own reprogrammed cells."

One U.S. expert believes the new work could have implications for human medicine down the line.

"It's hard not to extrapolate from this to humans, but I understand, I guess, why they don't want to," said Paul Sanberg, a distinguished professor of neurosurgery and director of the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair in Tampa. "Yes, it's in the realm of animal models. But it certainly shows how the iPS cells can be very plastic, and used for a variety of areas to develop tissues and now an animal. And it could end up being a way to develop animal models for human diseases in the future. So it's very interesting."

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