University of Minnesota researchers have successfully repaired damaged skin tissue using stem cells gleaned from bone marrow.
In a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the school’s Stem Cell Institute said the therapy can help patients who suffer from recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, a painful genetic skin disorder that causes skin to blister and scrape off at the slightest friction or trauma.
Even more importantly, the study shows these stem cells can form something other than bone marrow. Unlike embryonic stem cells, which can develop into any tissue, doctors have used bone marrow stem cells only to repair bone marrow.
“Whether stem cells from marrow could repair tissues other than itself has been quite controversial,” said Dr. John Wagner, director of pediatric blood and marrow transplantation and clinical director of the Stem Cell Institute, said in a statement. “But in 2007, we found a rare subpopulation of marrow stem cells that could repair the skin in laboratory models. This astounding finding compelled us to test these stem cells in humans. This has never been done before.”
The researchers say the stem cells can bond to the skin and upper gastrointestinal tract and boost levels of collagen 7, a protein that instructs layers of skin to stick together and to the body. Patients suffering from RDEB lack collagen 7.
The scientists, however, caution that the treatment is risky. Two patients in the study died from complications related to the therapy.
Last month, researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center and medical school said they grew breathing lungs from a rat in laboratory. In 2008, Doris Taylor drew international attention for successfully growing — and keeping alive — a beating rat’s heart in a jar. Taylor’s work has fueled hopes that scientists can one day grow replacement organs for patients who would typically wait for transplants. The university this year spun off Miromatrix Inc., a startup meant to commercialize Taylor’s work.