A collaboration between researchers at the University of Paris Decartes and the University of Maryland School of Medicine has used bone marrow stem cells to generate cell types from many different tissues such as the heart, brain and pancreas. This scientific breakthrough might lead to potential new ways to replace cells lost during injury, disease, infection or trauma.
Lead researcher David Trisler, a developmental neurobiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said: “Finding stem cells capable of restoring function to different damaged organs would be the Holy Grail of tissue engineering, This research takes us another step in that process by identifying the potential of these adult bone marrow cells, or a subset of them known as CD34+ bone marrow cells, to be ‘multipotent,’ meaning they could transform and function as the normal cells in several different organs.”
Trisler’s group at the University of Maryland have previously developed a special culturing system to collect a select sample of adult stem cells from bone marrow (Goolsby, et al., PNAS 2003 100(25): 14926-31). Bone marrow normally houses stem cells that make all red and white blood cells. However, there are also immature stem cells in the bone marrow that have a greater ability to differentiate. Trisler’s groups found bone marrow stem cells that express genes specific to the nervous system and also cells that express genes from embryonic tissues (Pessac, et al., C R Biol. 2011 334(4):300-6). For this project, Trisler’s team used an animal model similar to the one used to prove the multipotency of embryonic stem cells in order to demonstrate that these immature bone marrow stem cells could make more than just blood cells.
In this procedure, researchers injected the isolated stem cells into mouse embryos, and then the injected cells were then traced as the embryo developed to determine which cell types the stem cells made. Investigators found that the bone marrow stem cells (CD34+ cells) had a limited lifespan and did not produce teratomas, which are the tumors that sometimes form with the use of embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells cultivated from methods that require genetic manipulation.
Paul Fishman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, said: “When taken at an early stage, we found that the CD34+ cells exhibited similar multipotent capabilities as embryonic stem cells, which have been shown to be the most flexible and versatile. Because these CD34+ cells already exist in normal bone marrow, they offer a vast source for potential cell replacement therapy, particularly because they come from a person’s own body, eliminating the need to suppress the immune system, which is sometimes required when using adults stem cells derived from other sources”
Proving the potential of adult bone marrow stem cells opens new possibilities for scientific exploration, but more research is needed to see how this science can be translated to humans and clinical treatments.