Skin could be used as stem cell treatment

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Human skin cells may have the ability to transform into nerve, fat and muscle cells that could be grown into tissues to treat disease, scientists reported yesterday.

Human skin cells may have the ability to transform into nerve, fat and muscle cells that could be grown into tissues to treat disease, scientists reported yesterday.

Researchers believe "stem cells" from the underneath layer of skin could eventually be harvested so that treatments could be produced using the patient's own cells. These stem cells, which can turn into other cells types, could then be used to regenerate healthy tissue to replace tissue damaged by disease or injury.

The neural cells created by the researchers are similar to those that could potentially help patients recover from a spinal cord injury or a brain disorder such as Parkinson's disease.

The study by scientists at McGill University in Montreal shows that highly versatile adult stem cells may be easy to access. Freda Miller, who led the study, said: "You could potentially take a small biopsy of skin and harvest the patient's own stem cells, expand them (in a process that allows them to proliferate in a laboratory dish) and then use them to treat that patient."

Being able to generate large numbers of stem cells would be vital to allow for any future transplantation of them into damaged tissue with the aim of regeneration.

The work is one of a number of research initiatives into the use of stem cells derived from adults. Last month scientists announced they had been able to grow kidney cells from adult stem cells derived from bone marrow.

Groups opposed to the use of stem cells from early embryos have latched on to the adult stem cell work as vindication of their beliefs that embryo research is not necessary. But other scientists still believe that embryonic stem cells offer the best hope for culturing tissues for transplant surgery.

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