From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published March 8, 2013 08:32 AM

New discovery could have potential for regenerative medicine

Special cells that were discovered in healthy breast tissue from women undergoing breast reductions may hold the key for an important discovery. 

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UC San Francisco researchers found that certain rare cells extracted from adult breast tissue have the capability to turn into other cell types. 

Similar to human embryonic stem cells, the newly found cells are pluripotent. Pluripotent cells have the potential to differentiate into almost any cell in the body. 

Scientists discovered that when the cells were put either in mice, or in a cell culture, the cells could differentiate to produce multiple cell types, including those that could go on to make the heart, intestine, brain, pancreas and even cartilage.

These findings are significant because scientists previously believed that after the embryonic development stage, pluripotent cells no longer have the unlimited potential to develop into all cell types.

While more research needs to be done, the cells could potentially generate new tissue called a "patch kit" to heal wounds or reconstruct damaged or missing organs. They could also be used as a resource to study how cells become pluripotent in the first place, and how they repair and replace themselves.

"The ability of cells from an adult body to make so many tissue derivatives was completely unexpected," said senior author Thea D. Tlsty, PhD, a UCSF professor of pathology. "When we saw that they could make cartilage, bone, gut, brain, pancreas cells — and even beating heart tissue — we were excited and intrigued."

Though the newly discovered cells are similar to embryonic stem cells, they appear to be unique to themselves, said Tlsty. They are mortal and genetically stable — characteristics that are barriers to subsequent cancer formation, which is a factor that could prove valuable if the cells are to be used for regenerative medicine, she explained.

The study was published on March 4, in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Read more about the pluripotent cell discovery at UCSF News Center.

Cell image via Shutterstock.

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