Researchers Find Stem Cells in Human Fat
By Kevin Krolicki
LOS ANGELES (April 10) - Your love handles might someday save a life.
Researchers at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh say they have isolated
human stem cells from fat sucked out of patients during routine liposuctions.
That finding opens the prospect of a more abundant supply of the cells, which
are needed for promising medical research, and drawn from the same fat many
Americans would be more than happy to donate in the name of science.
''Fat is perhaps the ideal source,'' said Dr. Marc Hedrick, a UCLA plastic
surgeon and one of the researchers on the project. ''There's plenty of it.
It's easy and inexpensive to obtain. It even has a secondary cosmetic
Stem cells are master cells that have the ability to become anything in the
body from nerves to bone to muscle. Because of their unique power to develop
into all kinds of tissue, researchers are examining them for potential use in
treating a wide range of diseases.
Researchers say stem cells, which were first isolated just over two years
ago, have the potential to grow new heart muscles for people with cardiac
disease, new insulin-producing cells for those with diabetes and even new
nerve tissue for those suffering from spinal injuries or Parkinson's or
Until now, however, one of the major problems has been the relative scarcity
of human stem cells for testing and the medical and ethical controversy
surrounding their best-known sources.
Stem cells develop in the first stages of human life when they form a kind of
biological blank slate. Early research looked at embryonic tissue obtained
from fertility clinics, but abortion opponents have challenged the morality
of such experiments on the basis that life begins at conception.
President George W. Bush has stated his opposition to embryonic stem cell
research, and his administration is reviewing whether to block federal
funding for it, a step that has drawn a counter-plea from 80 U.S. Nobel
With that debate still raging, the potential to draw stem-like cells from fat
opens a new channel, especially given that there are 600,000 liposuctions a
year in the United States, researchers said.
''We don't yet know the limits for stem cells found in fat,'' said Dr. Adam
Katz, a plastic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh. ''This discovery
could potentially obviate the need for using fetal tissue.''
Or, as Patricia Zuk, a University of California at Los Angeles postdoctoral
researcher said, ''I'm sure there would be a lot of people willing to donate
MILLIONS OF STEM-LIKE CELLS IN HALF POUND OF FAT
In the experiment, detailed in the April issue of the medical journal Tissue
Engineering, the scientists took the fat and fluid sucked from the hips,
buttocks and stomachs of patients during elective liposuction surgery.
That material was then washed and purified, treated with an enzyme to break
down the matrix holding cells together and compared with the stem cells
obtained from bone marrow samples.
The result: researchers found that a half-pound (0.24 kg) or so of fatty
material could yield as much as 50 million to 100 million undifferentiated
stem-like cells, Zuk said.
Researchers said those cells appeared to have the potential to grow into
bone, fat, cartilage or muscle tissue over time. Experiments at UCLA were
under way to see if the cells could be used to grow human bone and fat tissue
in mice, Hedrick said.
Hedrick, who was set to perform another liposuction on Tuesday, said the
findings should cause people to begin to to see ''unwanted fat as a vigorous
tissue with a tremendous potential for good.''
''It's not just that spare tire that we're all looking to get rid of,'' he
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