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Found Cells Stem Hope

Found Cells Stem HopeResearchfrom Tufts suggests the possibility of an exciting natural sourceof stem cells – which may hold the key to new era of medicaltreatments.Boston.

Boston [07.23.04] As Diana Bianchi told The Boston Globe, "pregnancy lasts a lifetime, and you carry mementos of your children wherever you go." But the Tufts researcher isn't just talking about memories - she's referring to cells found in the tissue of pregnant woman in her groundbreaking new study. Showing properties of stem cells, the newfound cells could help find the cure to a myriad of diseases - as well as end the ethical debate over stem cell research.

"Studies have virtually ignored the role of pregnancy, but women who have been pregnant potentially have cells with therapeutic potential from their fetus," Diana Bianchi - Tufts professor of pediatrics - told HealthDay News.

In a recently published study headed by Bianchi, Tufts researchers found evidence of transformed fetal cells in women who have been pregnant. The newly-discovered cells appear to migrate to diseased organs and try to fix them.

"If we can prove these are stem cells, and harvest them from the blood or tissue of a woman who's been pregnant, they could have therapeutic potential for that woman, her children and perhaps even unrelated individuals," Bianchi told The Boston Globe.

Researchers believe the cells could help develop treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, arthritis, and many others.

The cells could also ease a long-standing controversy regarding the ethics of embryonic stem cell research.

If they are "true stem cells, they possess the developmental advantages of being fetal in origin, but can be retrieved without the ethical controversy associated with obtaining fetal material," Bianchi told Reuters.

Cells could be removed from blood or tissue, both considered ethical sources, and make the use of human embryos unnecessary.

As Bianchi told the Boston Herald, "It potentially represents the best of both worlds."

In 1996, Bianchi was the first researcher to show that fetal cells could be detected in the blood of women who have been pregnant. This new finding is the first time researchers have discovered fetal cells that bore the markers of other types of cells.

To conduct the study, the Tufts researchers retrieved cells from tissue samples of 10 women who had male sons, and compared them with tissue samples from 11 women who had never had male offspring.

The researchers found fetal cells present in the mothers' tissue samples. Cells were found in organs including the liver, spleen and thyroid - and disproportionately in diseased organs.

Though more research must be done, experts are buzzing about the potential of the finding.

"This is truly amazing," Eve Herold, public education manager of the Stem Cell Research Foundation, told the Herald. "I think the scientific community would really take a strong interest in this. The implications could be great."

In an editorial, the Journal of the American Medical Association also praised the study - noting the work raises "novel and exciting" possibilities.

"The time may soon come when the prenatal child heals the mother and perhaps in the far distant future becomes the ultimate health insurance for the whole family," wrote JAMA.

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