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Derivation of adult stem cells from the human intestine
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Intestinal diseases have presented a big problem in medicine up until now. Cellular death in the intestine caused by several diseases such as celiac disease, radiation and chemo therapy has proven to be hard to ameliorate and almost impossible to cure. The human intestine, being a specifically layered organ, provides several challenges in research, let alone therapy. Recently, as with many similar conditions, stem cell therapy was considered, but proven to be impossible due to the apparent hardships involved in extracting and cultivating human intestine stem cells. Namely, only rat intestine stem cells have been successfully extracted and cultivated by now. Although scientists have been able to learn a great deal about the basic mechanisms of stems cells from rat derived cultures, it has been impossible to conceive with a therapy or treatment for human patients due to the lack of any viable human derived cells.
That might have changed recently, as the laboratory that first derived the rat intestine stem cells has published a new paper, stating that they have successfully extracted and cultivated the first human intestine adult stem cells.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina report that for the first time, the much sought after human intestine stem cells have been isolated. This findings provide scientists worldwide with the much needed recourses to start considering stem cell treatments aimed at human intestine diseases. This is a significant step forward for scientists looking to uncover the true human stem cell mechanisms, as much as it is a hope for those suffering from any form of intestine degeneration, either from disease or cancer therapy.
“Not having these cells to study has been a significant roadblock to research,” stated senior study author Scott T. Magness, Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of medicine, biomedical engineering, and cell and molecular physiology at UNC, the leader of this laboratory. “Until now, we have not had the technology to isolate and study these stem cells. Now we have to tools to start solving many of these problems.”

“While the information we get from mice is good foundational mechanistic data to explain how this tissue works, there are some opportunities that we might not be able to pursue until we do similar experiments with human tissue,” noted lead study co-author Adam D. Gracz, a graduate student in Dr. Magness’ lab.

As Magnesses lab was the first to isolate and cultivate rat intestine stem cells, they had the startup required to do the same for human tissue. That has proven hard until now, due to the lack of intestinal material with human origins required as the source for the cells. Recently, they were able to get their hands on some uniquely qualified material to start their work, originating from gastric bypass surgery. With this material on their hands, they used the exact same technique used on the rat tissue. They tested the cells for specific cellular markers; proteins named CD24 and CD44, and surprisingly found out that rat intestine and human intestine exhibit these same markers. They then proceeded to tag the cells using fluorescent molecules. So tagged, the cells could then be inserted into a machine, the fluorescence activated cell sorter, to sort and isolate the cells from the tissue. They found that not only can they isolate the stem cells from the gut tissue samples, but they can also separate different types of stem cells from one another. This two types, active and reserve stem cells, are a hot topic in stem cell research currently, as scientist try to uncover the exact mechanism allowing for the transformation from reserve to active in case of injury or cell damage. This new findings provide room for much speculation concerning future uses and research into regenerative stem cell medicine concerning not only intestinal tissue, but stem cell research altogether. In an interview, Dr. Magness states the optimistic possibilities opened with this breakthrough.
"Now that we have been able to do this, the next step is to carefully characterize these populations to assess their potential," said Dr. Magness. "Can we expand these cells outside of the body to potentially provide a cell source for therapy? Can we use these for tissue engineering? Or to take it to the extreme, can we genetically modify these cells to cure inborn genetic disorders or inflammatory bowel disease? Those are some questions that we are going to explore in the future.”

Study results published in the journal Stem Cells
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