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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

scientists turn liposuction leftovers into embryonic-like stem cells

In medicine's version of winning the daily double, Stanford University researchers took ordinary fat cells and transformed them into what are effectively embryonic stem cells — those versatile cellular building blocks that can morph into a variety of tissues.

Scientists warn it's too soon to use excess fat to cure disease. But in theory, it would allow people to grow personalized replacement parts for ailing organs. And it avoids the use of embryos, which has embroiled the field in political and ethical debates.

"Thirty to 40 percent of adults in this country are obese," said cardiologist Joseph Wu, senior author of the paper published in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"But all of us have fat in our bodies," he said. "We just need a little bit."

In 2007, Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan made a landmark discovery by turning skin cells into embryoniclike stem cells, sending waves of relief through a field that had faced much resistance. Because these cells don't come from embryos, they are called "induced pluripotent stem cells," or IPS cells.

Stanford researchers took a similar approach. But fat cells seem more flexible and versatile than skin cells, so they can be reprogrammed more quickly and easily, making them potentially more useful in building colonies of IPS cells.

The procedure is not yet ready for clinical application because it relies on genetically engineered

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