SCIENCE REPORT- Stem Cells in Fat

By Nancy Steinbach

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

American medical researchers say they have discovered stem cells in human fat for the first time. Stem cells are able to develop into other kinds of cells, including nerve, bone and muscle cells.

Scientists have been studying the use of stem cells to treat and possibly cure many diseases. These stem cells have the power to grow into new heart muscle for people with heart disease. Or the stem cells can become new insulin-producing cells for people suffering diabetes.

Researchers have collected stem cells from the brain, bones and fetal tissue from unborn babies. Getting these stem cells for research purposes is difficult. And many people are opposed to using fetal tissue for research. The new discovery means that it might be easier to get stem cells for research and treatment of diseases.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh carried out the study. They reported the results in the publication "Tissue Engineering." The researchers took fat from the stomachs and legs of healthy adults in an operation known as liposuction. About six-hundred-thousand such operations are done in the United States every year. People choose to have liposuction to remove unwanted body fat.

The researchers treated the fat with a substance that separated out the stem cells. They found that about two-hundred grams of fat could produce as many as fifty-million to one-hundred-million stem-like cells. Then they used different chemicals to change those cells into bone cells, cartilage cells and muscle cells.

This is the first study to show that a person's own stem cells in fat might someday be used to treat disease or repair injured body parts. This would solve the problems of rejection by the body because no foreign tissue would be used.

However, researchers say many questions must be answered first. For example, must the stem cells be treated in the laboratory before they are given to patients? Do the stem cells form tumors? Do the stem cells change back to fat cells?

Scientists are working to confirm the findings of this experiment. They are testing the stem cells in animals. If this is successful, researchers say human testing could begin in about five years.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Nancy Steinbach.

Voice of America Special English