Adult fat cells easily become multi-purpose stem cells: Stanford research
Get out your liposuction wands, everybody: that fat you've been
carrying on your hips, thighs and belly can be transformed with
relative ease into cells that may one day be capable of repairing a
wide range of your damaged or diseased tissues, according to a new
report by Stanford University researchers.
Stem cells found
in fat deposits, it turns out, are more primitive than are many
adult stem cells harvested from tissues such as skin and blood: with
comparatively less effort than is required to make, for instance, a
stem cell derived from skin return to an undifferentiated cell form,
fat cells can be reprogrammed to become muscle, neuron and stomach
lining cells, finds a new study slated for publication in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
more embryonic-like" than stem cells derived from skin, said Ning
Sun, who conducted the research at Stanford University's Stem Cell
Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute. And reprogramming
adipose stem cells to become "pluripotent" is more efficient as
well, said Sun: using skin-cell "fibroblasts," researchers had to
manipulate about 1,000 cells to yield a single induced pluripotent
stem cell; the same process conducted on 1,000 stem cells from fat
yielded 20 induced pluripotent stem cells.
The science of
reprogramming adult stem cells to behave more like those derived
from human embryos remains in its infancy, and researchers point to
many uncertainties, including the risk that the use of some
reprogrammed stem cells in patients might jump-start the growth of
cancers. But the search for ways to make adult stem cells perform
the same feats of transformation that embryonic stem cells do has
provided an alternative to those cells with fewer ethical drawbacks.
For future patients looking to regenerative medicine to
repair hearts, brains and diseases of the soft tissues, the new work
suggests that their own fat stores could be plentiful workhorses of
medical treatment. And because these stem cells would come from a
patient's own body, they are unlikely to be attacked or rejected as
foreign intruders by the body's immune system.
And what a
plentiful resource it is! "We've identified a great natural
resource," said Stanford surgery professor and study co-author Dr.
Michael Longaker in a Stanford press release. With roughly
two-thirds of the American adult population overweight or obese, the
United States could become a potential future exporter of this
promising new resource. "Liquid gold," Dr. Longaker has called the
globs of fat seen by the side of liposuctionists' operating tables.
But wait. The nation's ballooning weight problem is expected to
be a key contributing factor in rising rates of cardiovascular
disease, arthritic joints and cancers -- all of which we will look
to regenerative medicine to cure. If fat cells end up playing a key
role in treating fat-related diseases, that may lend new meaning to
the maxim "patient, cure thyself." And it could mean we will need to
horde of our fat deposits for domestic consumption.