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Stem cells derived from urine may join in fight against human diseases

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Waste water that is expelled from the human body - urine, may now hold the key to battling various kinds of diseases. Researchers say that they have isolated stem cells from urine. This represents a breakthrough in stem cell research, as using urine to collect and cultivate cells is easy and involves minimal processing.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "The advantage with urine is that you are getting approximately two liters of urine out every day. So you don't have to keep going back and sticking the patient [with a needle] or doing biopsies on the patient," Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina says.

Proteins known as growth factors can be manipulated by scientists to grow into any tissue in the body. Therapy using stem cells from a patient's own body is naturally preferred because it does not cause immune rejection, as is the case with tissues and organs from donors. 

Most researchers currently use a complicated process to engineer regular skin and blood cells into specific cell types as there are few pure sources of master cells -- apart from human embryos, deeply frowned upon by the international humanitarian as well as medical community at large.

A team from Wake Forest, as reported in the journal Stem Cells, described how urine samples from 17 healthy individuals ranging in age from 5 to 75 contained stem cells that could be isolated and then manipulated to become smooth muscle-type cells.

Differentiated cells are then placed on to biologically-active support structures called scaffolds, made from pig intestines. They are then implanted the engineered tissue into mice.

The urine-derived stem cells, after a month develops into biological markers of connective tissue and blood vessels. This infers that they bud the potential to become bone, muscle, nerve or fat cells.

Some experts are skeptical about urine's value as a source of stem cells. Chris Mason, a regenerative medicine researcher at University College London, said there are very few usable stem cells in the liquid waste.

"It looks like it's an area where we are looking at very, very early data from a few groups. And I think that before we can say for certain there are [usable stem cells in urine], one would have to have it reproduced by a number of different laboratories. So I think it's more of a question mark and a maybe, rather than a certainty and a definitely not," said Mason.

Chinese researchers report having grown tiny tooth buds from master cells found in urine. It's not yet known whether those buds can take root and grow into replacement teeth.

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