April 1, 1999
The stem cell story continues with the news that some forms are much closer to treating human disease than previously suspected.
With a report that comes out this Friday in the journal Science, researchers announce they're much farther along in the ability to prod certain stem cells into becoming normal, mature human tissues than most people realize.
The stem cells, unlike the embryonic stem (ES) cells "unveiled" last November at Hopkins which theoretically can produce any cell type in the body, are more specialized. They typically develop into a smaller number of specific tissues. In this case, the researchers have nudged the stem cells in question -- called mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) -- into forming cartilage, bone and fat cells identical, apparently, to the usual human versions. The MSCs are harvested from adult tissues, skirting the ethical issues more basic stem cells carry.
MSCs are currently being tried experimentally for breast cancer patients whose bone marrow has been damaged by chemotherapy; the scientists also have used human MSCs to repair tendon and bone injury in animals. Possibilities abound, they say, for restoring heart muscle after heart attacks or repairing cartilage in joints before arthritis sets in.
The research reported in the Science study took place at Osiris Therapeutics, a Baltimore biotech company. Daniel Marshak, Ph.D., the lead researcher, has appointments in two departments at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is available for interviews.
The Johns Hopkins University owns stock in Gryphon, a subsidiary of Osiris. The sale of the stock is subject to certain restrictions under the University's conflict of interest policy.