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Adult stem cells from one type of tissue might not be able to generate cells of other tissues — and so may not be a suitable substitute for stem cells extracted from embryos, according to new research.

The results, published in the 4 April issue of Nature, call into question previous reports that adult cells can revert to a state similar to embryonic stem cells, with the same therapeutic potential but without the ethical complications.

Two teams of researchers — one led by Qi-Long Jing from the University of Edinburgh and the other by Naohiri Terada of the University of Florida — report that adult cells from bone marrow or brain grown with embryonic stem cells fused spontaneously to make hybrid cells able to produce muscle, nerve and other cells.

Animal studies will be required to establish whether spontaneous cell fusion occurs in vivo, and if it can explain adult stem cell plasticity.

Confirmation would be a setback to plans to use these cells clinically, because fused cells carry double the normal amount of DNA, and may be unhealthy.

Reference: Nature, 4 April 2002

Link to 'Cell fusion causes confusion', a feature by Andrew E. Wurmser and Fred H. Gage
Link to paper by Qi-Long Ying et al

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