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Petri dishes incubating stem cells.

Petri dishes incubating stem cells

Building bone marrow

From M, spring 2007

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford University has found that a type of adult stem cell can replace the bone marrow and regenerate the immune systems of mice. If the finding can be extended to humans, it could mean a new and more abundant supply of cells for bone marrow transplant patients.

Catherine Verfaillie, director of the University's Stem Cell Institute, who headed the latest work, first identified the cells, called MAPCs (multipotent adult progenitor cells), in 2001.

True to their name, they can give rise in the laboratory to many tissues, including blood, brain, liver, smooth muscle, and the endothelial cells that line the cavities of arteries and veins.

The Verfaillie team isolated MAPCs from bone marrow of mice, grew them in culture, and transplanted them into mice whose immune systems had been destroyed by radiation.

"The cells not only survived when transplanted, but they completely repopulated the blood system of the mice," Verfaillie says.

The researchers stress that much more work must be done with nonhuman animals and that studies must be replicated with human MAPCs before any new treatments can become available.