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UBC researcher finds adult stem cell route to repair muscle damage


Vancouver, BC November 27, 2003 Serious muscle injuries, such as the permanent debilitating scarring that results from heart attack, could be repaired by adult stem cells in blood, according to a University of British Columbia researcher.

Dr Fabio Rossi, Canada research chair in regenerative medicine, has shown that adult stem cells found in bone marrow blood-forming (hematopoietic) cells can also form muscle cells. Dr Rossi extracted individual blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow. He introduced the single cells into blood and found their "offspring" not only produced blood but also helped to repair damaged muscle tissue.

Dr Rossi’s discovery, in collaboration with Stanford University scientists, will help scientists move closer to developing new treatments for muscle injury. For example, heart attacks create permanent scarring because the heart contains no adult stem cells specialized cells that can renew themselves to repair specific tissues. Dr Rossi’s findings suggest that the blood-forming stem cells could be used to renew cardiac muscle tissue after a heart attack.

The findings, recently published in Nature Medicine, suggest a new avenue of treatment possibilities for muscle damage or disease.

"Now we can focus on these particular stem cells and accelerate our efforts to make them a useful therapy," says Dr Rossi, an assistant professor of medical genetics and a member of UBC’s Biomedical Research Centre. "Right now, the cells have significant potential but limited therapeutic value."

Scientists have been aware that cells found in bone marrow have some positive effect on damaged muscle tissue, however, they did not know which cell was responsible or the mechanics of the process. Also, adult stem cells are usually capable of renewing only the tissue from which they originate and, until now, their potential to generate other types of cells was questioned.

Adult stem cells hold promise as an alternative to embryonic stem cells that are able to grow all types of human tissue but are the subject of considerable ethical debate. Adult stem cells are difficult to grow in the lab and clinically significant amounts are hard to obtain.

Dr Rossi estimates that it will be at least 10 years before adult stem cells can replace embryonic stem cells as an effective therapy.