Adult Stem Cells May Help Treat Kidney Disease

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

London ( - In another sign that adult stem cells may provide an effective alternative to the controversial use of human embryos for therapeutic purposes, British scientists have discovered that cells in bone marrow can be turned into tissue, which could help treat kidney damage caused by cancer or other diseases.

Scientists from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and Imperial College School of Medicine analyzed female kidneys placed into male patients who had undergone bone marrow transplants.

In the donated female kidneys now transplanted into the men, they found male kidney cells which had originated in the recipient's own bone marrow. The bone marrow cells had transformed into kidney tissue.

"This discovery is very exciting and means we have new ways to treat kidney damage caused by cancer or other diseases," said Prof. Nick Wright of Imperial Cancer's histopathology unit Wednesday.

"Doctors could use stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow to replenish kidney cells lost by injury," he said. "This would be of huge benefit as the kidney is very poor at repairing itself."

"There would be much less complication with the kidneys rejecting the new cells, because they would come from the patient's own body," Wright added.

"The potential for advances in medicine from using adult stem cells is enormous," said Dr. Richard Poulsom, a research pathologist at Imperial Cancer.

"They can give rise to many different types of cells so any organ may one day be repaired. Using adult stem cells also avoids the ethical dilemmas associated with embryonic stem cell work."

Although many scientists believe that adult stem cells - undeveloped cells harvested from bone marrow, brain tissue or placentas - may be less versatile than those taken from embryos, researchers continue to come up with evidence that they have greater potential than originally thought.

Research carried out by the same UK team, and published last summer, found that adult stem cells from bone marrow are capable of transforming themselves into liver cells and repopulating damaged livers.

Also last August, researchers at the University of South Florida's College of Medicine announced that bone marrow stem cells could be converted into immature nerve cells, which could one day be used to treat brain disorders such as strokes or Parkinson's disease.

The ethical and political debate over stem cell research is raging in the U.S., where President Bush is considering whether to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Many pro-life advocates are opposed to embryonic research because the early-stage human being is destroyed in the process. Some have urged Bush to increase funding for research into adult stem cells instead.

Those on the other side of the debate argue that the versatility of adult stem cells has not yet been proven, and that they are more difficult to harvest and grow than those taken from embryos.

In Britain, parliament last winter opened the way for scientists to carry out stem cell research on human embryos, and also to clone embryos for that purpose. In both cases, the embryos are to be destroyed once harvested for their stem cells.
See also:
Pope Gives Bush Clear Message On Embryonic Stem Cell Research (July 23, 2001)
New Research May Offer Ethical Alternatives to Embryonic Cloning (Aug 4, 2000)