A new breakthrough a cell in adults that can turn into every single tissue in the body has been discovered.Until now, it was thought that only embryonic stem cells could do this. Work is in the embryo stage but efforts are now being made to turn the adult cells into tissues such as muscle, cartilage and brain cells, which can be transplanted back into the patient.
Ihor Lemischka of the US's Princeton University said: "The work is very exciting. They can differentiate into pretty much everything that an embryonic stem cell can differentiate into."
The cells, named multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs), are said to have the same potential as embryonic stem cells (ESCs).
Some cell lines have been growing for almost two years and have kept their characteristics, with no signs of ageing, researchers claim. The discovery of such "versatile adult stem cells" is likely to fan the debate about whether embryonic stem cell research is justified.
Scientists say that at this early stage of research, it is prudent to keep all options open. One expert is sceptical about the findings, questioning the nature of stem cells.
Verfaillie's team thinks MAPCs are rare cells present in the bone marrow that can be fished out through a series of enriching steps. But others think the selection process actually creates the MAPCs. Stem cell researchers say it is too early to tell whether the ultimate stem cell has been discovered and most believe research with embryonic stem cells must continue.