Study finds fat could be potential source of stem cells

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Scientists say human fat may be a potential source of stem cells, a breakthrough that could lead to a cure for numerous illnesses.

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh used fat collected by liposuction to isolate the stem cells, which they said were then converted into bone, cartilage and muscle depending on the conditions in which they were grown.

Stem cells, which are the building blocks for all human tissue, have the potential to become virtually any type of tissue. They have been harvested previously from bone marrow, brain and fetal tissue.

``We don't yet know the limits for stem cells found in fat. So far, we have seen promising results with all of the tissue types we have examined,'' Dr. Adam J. Katz, a member of the research team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a statement released Monday.

The study was published in the journal Tissue Engineering.

The finding means a person's own fat could conceivably be used to provide the tissue needed to treat disease or repair injuries.

``We hope one day to be able to remove diseased tissue or organs, harvest stem cells and replace the lost tissues on the same day during the same operation,'' Dr. Marc Hedrick, the research team's primary investigator at UCLA, said in the statement. ``There is potential for regenerating a lot of different tissues, perhaps some day solid organs, glands, nerves or brain tissue.''

Stem cell research also holds promise toward finding cures for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.

Katz said the discovery could also potentially obliviate the need for using fetal tissue, a practice opposed by many anti-abortion groups.

President Bush has signaled he may block federal financing for research that uses fetal tissue. He wants scientists to focus only on adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells have generated the most scientific excitement because they appear to be the most flexible.

``This is extremely significant in terms of its potential,'' Dr. Michael T. Longaker of Stanford University, who was not involved in the study, told the Los Angeles Times. ``Unfortunately, fat is a substantial natural resource in the USA. This is a great way to do something with it.''

A separate team at Duke University has also produced similar results by turning stem cells from fat into cartilage.

``It's very important for different groups to reach the same conclusion with a study with this much potential impact,'' Farshid Guilak, who led the Duke study, told the Times.

Both groups are performing experiments with animals and predict it would take about five years before the first clinical trials are conducted on humans.