Emerging Science Note/Getting to the Root of the Problem
Scientists have isolated adult stem cells in human hair follicles. Tobin Hack reports that these cells are surprisingly similar, but far less controversial, than their embryonic stem cell brothers.
HACK: In their search for regenerative cell therapies that might some day cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases, scientists have studied adult stem cells found in the hair follicles of mice.
Now, for the first time, Pathologist Dr. George Xu, at the University of Pennsylvania, has isolated a new adult stem cell in the human hair follicle. He calls it "multipotent," because it can transform into many kinds of tissue. By culturing these multipotent cells with proteins and minerals, Dr. Xu has already gotten the hair follicle stem cells to differentiate into skin, nerve, muscle, bone, cartilage, and fat tissue.
These multipotent stem cells contain certain proteins – called markers – that have previously been found only in embryonic stem cells. And they can duplicate themselves without the help of other cells, meaning that a single stem cell can be extracted from a hair follicle, cultured in a lab, and produce a colony of cells. That’s a good thing, because only one or two of them exist in every follicle, but thousands would be required for regenerative treatments.
Although stem cells from human hair follicles are much harder to come by, and less versatile than embryonic stem cells, they’re less controversial in today’s political and religious debates over the ethics of stem cell research.
That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Tobin Hack.
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