Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Login
Advanced Search

Search for
BioNews

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook


 


 

Study finds no evidence for 'ethical' embryonic-like stem cells in adult mice

29 July 2013

By Dr Daniel Grimes

Appeared in BioNews 715

A paper in the journal Stem Cell Reports has reignited debate among a section of the stem cell research community. The study calls into question the existence of a type of cell that, if validated, would have great potential for use in regenerative medicine.

The cells, called very small embryonic-like cells (VSELs), were first reported in 2006 by Dr Mariusz Ratajczak at the University of Louisville, USA. Since then, several publications have questioned whether the cells exist, with the most recent study led by Professor Irving Weissman at Stanford University, also in the USA.

Talking to the journal Nature, Dr Rüdiger Alt, head of research at Vita 34 in Germany, a previous VSEL researcher, said: 'Weissman’s evidence is a clincher - it is the end of the road for VSELs'.

However, proponents of VSELs argue that others are simply failing in the difficult task of harvesting the correct cells. Dr Ratajczak told Nature that Professor Weissman 'has never visited my lab to witness exactly how we carry out the method', while Dr Wojciech Wojakowski of the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland, told the journal that 'other investigators are just not managing to catch the right cells'.

Part of the difficulty may lie in the size of the reported cells, thought to be less than six micrometers in diameter, and the fact that they are extremely rare.

Dr Ratajczak and others report that VSELs, which were discovered in mouse bone marrow, can transform into a range of other cell types, including muscle, nerve, and blood. Such properties are characteristic of embryonic stem cells. Normally adult stem cells are more restricted in the types of cells that they can become. Thus, the discovery of VSELs, if validated, would represent a game-changing development.

Proponents also suggest VSELs to be an ethical pluripotent stem cell source because their preparation does not require the destruction of embryos. The Vatican supports VSEL research and donated US$1 million to the Stem For Life Foundation, an offshoot of the New York-based NeoStem company that promotes the use of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells.

Professor Weissman's paper does not signal the end of the debate. Indeed, the arguments may intensify as two major clinical trials using the cells are planned. One of these is scheduled to start in Europe while a second trial backed by NeoStem is awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research, who was not involved in the study, commented: 'VSELs make little sense biologically'.

He also questioned the rationale behind allowing human trials: 'Would you really want to put something in your body that has not been described in detail let alone understood?'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
The Scientist | 24 July 2013
 
Stem Cell Reports | 24 July 2013
 
Nature | 24 July 2013
 
Science Media Centre | 24 July 2013
 
EurekAlert! (press release) | 24 July 2013
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

14 April 2014 - by Ari Haque 
Several organisations within the scientific community have condemned a recent proposal brought to the European Parliament that seeks to ban funding for embryo research...

08 July 2013 - by Ari Haque 
Two US public interest groups have asked a federal appeals court to hear a challenge of a patent over human embryonic stem cells...
30 July 2012 - by Professor Robin Lovell-Badge 
Earlier this year, a paper claimed to have found cells, called ovarian stem cells, in the adult ovaries of both mice and humans. These cells could apparently be grown in large numbers in the lab and could retain the ability to give rise to eggs. A new study finds no evidence for the existence of germline progenitors able to produce eggs in postnatal ovaries. Is a lack of evidence sufficient to win the argument?...
02 April 2012 - by Jessica Ware 
The Vatican has cancelled a stem cell research conference scheduled to take place next month, citing a lack of participants...
21 November 2011 - by Mehmet Fidanboylu 
Stem cells may be present in breast milk and could be used therapeutically. The intense ethical debate surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells could therefore be bypassed if claims made by a team of scientists in Australia are confirmed...

HAVE YOUR SAY
Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust

CROSSING FRONTIERS

Public Conference
London
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


BOOK HERE

Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation