By Karen Hopkin
(Click here for the original article and podcast)
Stem cells are prized for their ability to give rise to a variety of specialized cell types, including heart, liver, nerve and bone. Unfortunately, it's the stem cells from embryos that have shown the biggest potential, for generating both a range of tissues and a ton of controversy.
Now, researchers have discovered a new type of stem cell, present in adults, that appears to have similar potential to its embryonic kin. Best of all, it comes from a source a lot of us would be happy to give away: body fat. That's according to a study in the journal PLoS ONE. [Saleh Heneidi et al., Awakened by Cellular Stress: Isolation and Characterization of a Novel Population of Pluripotent Stem Cells Derived from Human Adipose Tissue]
These fat-based stem cells were discovered by accident. Researchers were trying to grow cells from material collected by liposuction. But when a piece of lab equipment failed, the cells in their sample died--except for these unusually hearty stem cells.
They can apparently withstand all sorts of harsh conditions, like nutrient or oxygen deprivation and attack by digestive enzymes. In fact, stress may even activate these cells, which would make them excellent candidates for repairing diseased or damaged tissues.
More studies are needed to explore these cells' potential. Which means researchers could be looking for a big fat donation.