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Adult Stem Cells May Help Organ Transplants, Study Shows

Hamburg, Germany -- In another study showing the potential adult stem cells have as a possible alternative to embryonic stem cell research, researchers at the University of Kiel Medical Center in Germany say they have succeeded in using adult stem cells to promote immune tolerance of transplanted hearts in laboratory rats.

Dr. Maren Ruhnke said the goal of future research would be to develop similar techniques that can be used in human organ transplants.

Although most transplant patients are given powerful immune-suppressing drugs, the medication has side effects and does not always prevent the
recipient's immune system from attacking the organ.

Ruhnke told Reuters Health that in the past only embryonic stem cells had been used in similar transplantation experiments. Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos, a process which destroys the unique person and is opposed by the pro-life community. Adult stem cells can be found in bone marrow or circulating in blood, and are also found in other sources.

In the as-yet-unpublished German study, stem cells were taken from bone marrow of adult rats, whose hearts were later removed for transplantation into rats of different strains, she said.

The bone marrow cells were cultured and then injected into transplant recipient rats, some of which lived over 100 days without rejecting the
transplanted heart.

Ruhnke said that normally adult stem cells do not divide quickly enough to be effective in promoting acceptance of transplanted organs. But she said the head of the research team, Dr. Fred Faendrich, had developed a culture method that accelerates division of adult stem cells.

Faendrich in the past had used injection of embryonic stem cells into rats to promote long-term acceptance of a subsequently transplanted heart. He
outlined results of those studies in the February 2002 issue of Nature Medicine.

The University of Kiel Medical Center said last week that it had teamed with healthcare company Fresenius ProServe to form a joint venture company called Blasticon, which would be involved in future adult stem cell research.

Source:   Reuters Health; February 19, 2003

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