Fat May Serve a Purpose in Stem Cell Research

Fat cells could play an important role in stem cell research and regenerative medicine, researchers have found.

Most people try to get rid of excess fat, maybe so they can fit into their favorite jeans. But now, researchers may have found an important purpose for those pesky fat cells, turning them into stem cells that can be used to treat injuries and repair damaged organs.

 Scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found a new and improved way to transform stem cells taken from fat into pluripotent stem cells that can be used in regenerative medicine.

 Pluripotent cells are important in modern medicine, because they can be induced to become different types of specialized cells, which can be used to treat injuries and other health issues. Stanford researchers plan to first use these cells to better understand human heart disease and eventually develop new treatment options. 

 The new technique is both safer and simpler than current commonly used techniques, which use viruses to introduce genes into the cells or permanently alter a cell’s genome. Instead, the Stanford researchers used microscopic rings of DNA to induce pluripotency in stem cells from human fat.

 The ramifications are far-reaching, notes cardiologist Dr. Joseph Wu. For example, in a patient with heart disease, scientists could simply do a fat or skin biopsy and reprogram the cells to pluripotency so they can become cardiac cells that they can study in the lab, rather than having to take cells directly from a patient’s heart.

 The scientists hope that the ease and safety of the new will smooth the way through the necessary FDA approval process.

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