15 November 2011

An unexpected source of pluripotent stem cells

Universal stem cells have been found in breast milkCopper news
Australian scientists have discovered pluripotent stem cells in female breast milk, similar in properties to embryonic ones, writes New Scientist (Breast-milk stem cells may bypass ethical dilemmas).

Previously, such cells could not be found in the body of an adult.

A research team from the University of Western Australia in Crawley first reported the discovery of stem cells in milk in 2008. In the course of subsequent experiments, the scientists grew these cells in the laboratory and found out that they can develop into all three germ leaves (endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm) as embryonic stem cells.

This means that breast milk stem cells can differentiate into any tissue of the body, that is, they are pluripotent, or universal. In addition, it turned out that they synthesize most of the protein markers inherent in embryonic cells.

As researcher Foteini Hassiotou noted, there are quite a lot of stem cells in breast milk – about two percent of all cells. Although this ratio may vary depending on the time and volume of milk production. The biological role of stem cells in the secretion of mammary glands has not yet been clarified.

The report on the study will be presented in early 2012 at the Seventh International Symposium on Lactation and Breastfeeding in Vienna. A number of specialists, such as Robin Lovell-Badge from the British National Institute of Medical Research in London, have already expressed doubts about the reliability of the results obtained. In their opinion, the find looks implausible, although there were no convincing arguments to refute it.

In any case, as Chris Mason from University College London noted, it is not so difficult to prove the pluripotency of cells – when injected into mice, teratomas (tumors from human embryonic tissue) should develop.

If the findings of Australian scientists are confirmed, breast milk can become a valuable source of pluripotent stem cells, which, unlike embryos, does not cause ethical controversy.

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