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Neural crest stem cells in skin could provide alternative to embryonic stem cell use


Cell replacement therapy offers a novel and powerful medical technology. A type of embryonic stem cell, called a neural crest stem cell, that persists into adulthood in hair follicles was recently discovered by Maya Sieber-Blum, Ph.D., of the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milos Grim, MD Ph.D., of Charles University Prague, and their collaborators.

The discovery - reported recently in Developmental Dynamics, a journal of the American Association of Anatomists published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. - may in many instances provide a non-controversial substitute for embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are unique, because they can differentiate into any cell type of the body. Their use, however, raises ethical concerns because embryos are being destroyed in the process. In contrast, neural crest stem cells from adults have several advantages: similar to embryonic stem cells, they have the innate ability to differentiate into many diverse cell types; they are easily accessible in the skin of adults; and the patient's own neural crest stem cells could be used for cell therapy. The latter avoids both rejection of the implant and graft-versus-host disease.

Studies in the mouse showed that neural crest stem cells from adult hair follicles are able to differentiate into neurons, nerve supporting cells, cartilage/bone cells, smooth muscle cells, and pigment cells. Preliminary data indicate that equivalent stem cells reside in human hair follicles.

"The goal of our research is to apply neural crest stem cells from adult hair follicles in cell replacement therapy in selected instances," Sieber-Blum says. This may include, spinal cord injury, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Hirschsprung's disease, peripheral neuropathies, certain defects of the heart, and bone degeneration. Though promising, this research is still in the animal testing stage. Additional research is required before it could benefit patients.


Sieber-Blum will present these findings at the American Association of Anatomists' Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology (EB) 2005 at a session on "Stem Cells in the Adult Epidermis" (Wednesday, April 6, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., San Diego Convention Center).

Article: "Pluripotent neural crest stem cells in the adult hair follicle (p 258-269) M. Sieber-Blum, M. Grim, Y.F. Hu, V. Szeder, Developmental Dynamics; Volume 231, Issue 2 (October 2004)Published Online: July 28, 2004 (DOI: 10.1002/dvdy.20129).

The American Association of Anatomists (AAA), based in Bethesda, MD, was founded in 1888 for the "advancement of anatomical science." Today, AAA is the professional home for biomedical researchers and educators focusing on anatomical form and function. In addition to being the primary educators of medical students in their first year of medical school, AAA members worldwide work in imaging, cell biology, genetics, molecular development, endocrinology, histology, neuroscience, forensics, microscopy, physical anthropology, and numerous other exciting and developing areas. AAA publishes two journals--The Anatomical Record and Developmental Dynamics--plus a quarterly newsletter. Among its other programs and services, the organization sponsors an Annual Meeting (part of Experimental Biology) and maintains a Web site that offers members and others a variety of tools to enhance their teaching and research. Additional information is available at or by contacting 301-634-7910 or

AAA's journal Developmental Dynamics covers the best in developmental biology: cutting-edge research on morphogenesis--the study of the emergence of form during animal development. It is published monthly by John Wiley & Sons

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