A team of Italian researchers has shown that neural stem cells - cells that normally develop into a range of nerve cells - can grow into muscle cells. The team, based at the Institute for Stem Cell Research in Milan, published their findings in the latest issue of Nature Neuroscience.
The scientists found that nerve stem cells taken from adult mice were 'reprogrammed' either when placed amongst cultured muscle cells, or when injected into adult mouse muscle. They also found that human nerve stem cells could grow into muscle cells. Luigi Vescovi, co-director of the institute, said that the most obvious possibility for therapeutic development was in muscular dystrophy.
The UK government recently published a report backing research into disease therapies using embryonic stem cells - cells that can grow into any type of tissue. Opponents of the proposed changes to current embryo research legislation argue that the versatility of adult stem cells means that work on embryo stem cells is unnecessary. But Charles Jennings, editor of Nature Neuroscience, said that this argument was based on weak evidence. 'Common sense dictates that it is not possible to decide which approach is more promising until both have been explored', he said.
Professor Richard Gardner, who chaired a Royal Society working party on stem cell research, agrees that despite promising adult stem cell findings, embryo stem cell research is still needed. MPs are due to vote on the issue later this year.
Sources and References
Cloning of embryos 'may not be needed'
Italians report breakthrough in stem cell research