August 7, 2005
Scientists looking for less controversial alternatives to stem cells from human embryos yesterday said they had found a potential source in placentas saved during childbirth.
Stem cells - which can potentially become any kind of cell and so be used in transplants for a multitude of illnesses - could revolutionise medicine.
… A team at the University of Pittsburgh described primitive cells found in a part of the placenta called the amnion, which they coaxed into forming a variety of cell types and which look very similar to sought-after embryonic stem cells.
With millions of children born each year, placentas could provide a ready source of the cells, the team said.
It is not yet certain that the cells they found are true stem cells, said Stephen Strom, who worked on the study. But they carry two important genes, called Oct 4 and nanog, which so far have only been seen on embryonic stem cells.
The cells found by the Pittsburgh researchers failed to form tumors and don’t appear to be immortal—two features of embryonic stem cells. But in experiments, the team did get the cells to form into what looked like heart cells, nerve cells, liver cells and pancreatic cells—which suggests they could have many medical uses. Better still, they would come pre-inoculated against the religious right.
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