Scientists Successfully Convert Umbilical Stem Cells Into Other Cells

Stem cell treatment is considered a controversial form of treatment in that it was once believed that it requires embryonic stem cells in order to be possible, which has become an issue of ethical debate. But not anymore. Researchers may have discovered a means to convert stem cells found in umbilical cords into other types of cells. The discovery may make it possible to develop potential stem cell treatments for diseases like multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries as well as other diseases of the nervous system.

The finding is considered a first time that non-embryonic stem cells have been used for converting into other potential cells for treatment. Stem cells are considered as the basic cells that are converted by the body into other cells that become tissues that become the building block of the body. They are considered as general-purpose cells since they can become any type of cell that the body may need to develop.

The main question behind stem cell treatments is that the stem cells have to be primarily sourced from newly developed embryos. This method creates an ethical dilemma which may not bode well with other people. Finding a means to convert stem cells from other non-destructive means for treatment will surely revolutionize stem cell research and eliminate those ethical questions usually associated with the practice.

Researchers from the University of Central Florida have developed a way to convert umbilical stem cells into oligodendrocytes, critical structural cells that functions as insulation for the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.  The researchers, headed by James Hickman, a University of Central Florida bioengineer, sought out possible clues from past research. Hedvika Davis, a postdoctoral researcher in Hickman’s lab and lead author of the study, learned from other research groups that some components on oligodendrocytes that seem to bind with the hormone called norephinephrine. This offered the suggestion that the said hormone might be normally interacting with the said cells and may even be a factor that stimulates their production. The research team then conducted tests with this finding as their starting point.

Early tests showed that norephinephrine, together with other known promoters of stem cell growth, has led to umbilical stem cells converting and differentiating into oligodendrocytes. But the conversion only stopped short of reaching a level similar to that found in the human nervous system. This brought the suggestion that the physical environment where the cells develop might also be critical.

The team went on to approximate the physical restrictions that cells face in the body as close as possible. When they conducted the test again in this new environment, the stem cells eventually matured fully into oligodendrocytes.

The findings of the study might be a crucial first step into the future of developing medical treatments with the use of stem cells. By utilizing umbilical stem cells, the ethical questions regarding the use of stem cells are thrown out the window, giving the researchers a more acceptable means of stem cell treatment. Further tests might be needed in order to further know more about stem cells and how they can be used for potential treatments. The findings of the team are published in the January 18 issue of the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Source: University of Central Florida (2012, January 17). Umbilical cord stem cells converted into brain support cells. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2012, from

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply