Scientists muse on potential new stem cell discovered by accident

stem cell accident pluripotent muse-at muse (charles and adrienne esseltine http://www.flickr.com/photos/94246383@N00/8886266095/)

A fortuitous "scientific accident" might have uncovered a new source of pluripotent adult stem cells. While researchers have previously isolated MUltilineage-differentiating Stress-Enduring (MUSE) cells from human skin fibroblasts and bone marrow stromal cells, scientists at the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology are now been able to tag an -AT (meaning ‘derived from adipose tissue') onto the end. In a research paper published in PLoS ONE, the team say they have isolated a novel population of pluripotent stem cells that can easily be derived from human adipose tissue.

The cells were apparently discovered "when a piece of equipment failed in the laboratory, killing all the stem cells in an experiment except the Muse-AT cells." NBS News reports that a researcher was isolating adipose stem cells when a critical machine stopped working, and it was too late at night to borrow a machine from another lab. The cells therefore received no nutrients and hardly any oxygen. The cells that survived were Muse-AT cells, which the researchers say expressed many embryonic stem-cell markers and were able to differentiate into muscle, bone, fat, cardiac, neuronal and liver cells.

The cells can be isolated from lipoaspirates by applying conditions of very harsh cellular stress, including hypothermia, hypoxia, starvation and proteolytic enzymes. "This population of cells lies dormant in the fat tissue until it is subjected to very harsh conditions,” said Gregorio Chazenbalk, a senior author of the research. Under the harsh conditions, a highly purified population of Muse-AT cells can be isolated without the need for cell sorting methods or other specialized high-tech devices. Chazenbalk said the researchers were able to isolate the cells using the simple and efficient method in about six hours from the time the fat tissue is harvested.

The discovery might have uncovered a potential source of cells for regenerative medicine. “This research offers a new and exciting source of fat stem cells with pluripotent characteristics, as well as a new method for quickly isolating them. These cells also appear to be more primitive than the average fat stem cells, making them potentially superior sources for regenerative medicine,” said Chazenbalk.

However, as pointed out by the NBS News article, some scientists are understandably cautious of the news. Martin Pera of Stem Cells Australia said that while the current study was interesting, it was also preliminary. He said: "Evidence that MUSE cells can actually turn into a wide range of mature functional body cells is somewhat limited." Other scientists have queried whether the cells are indeed pluripotent, as they exhibited no teratoma-forming ability.

Read the journal article here, the press release here, and a Forbes article here.

What do you think? Are you excited by this discovery, or are you reserving judgement until further studies reproduce the results? Why not join our discussion on LinkedIn, or leave a comment below. Want more from Total BioPharma? Sign up to our newsletter – it doesn't cost anything and only takes a minute.

If you are interested in this, you may also be interested in Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine Congress, taking place in Cambridge, MA on September 30 – October 1.

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