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Health Information No Controversy Here: Adult Stem Cells

There has been much controversy around the idea of using embryonic stem cells for therapeutic and research purposes. But did you know that physicians have been treating some types of cancers, like leukemia and lymphoma, for decades using stem cells from adult donors?

Blood-forming stem cells are immature cells that can mature into blood cells. These stem cells are found in bone marrow, the bloodstream or umbilical cord blood. Blood stem cells used to be harvested directly from the bone marrow. And some people still associate bone marrow cell donation with this painful procedure.

"About 15 years ago, it became apparent that there were easier and less invasive ways to get blood stem cells," says Bruce C. McLeod, MD, an expert on stem cells and director of the Blood Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "We now basically encourage the stem cells to leave the bone marrow, so that we can collect them from the blood." Much of what we used to call bone marrow transplant therapy is more accurately called blood stem cell therapy today.

Blood stem cells are more specialized than the more controversial embryonic stem cells, which theoretically have the potential to become any kind of cell in the body. "We know that the blood stem cells we work with can become any type of blood cell, platelet, white blood cell, red blood cell, etc." says McLeod. "The question is whether it might be possible to encourage these cells to become other tissue types; might they be able to support growth of new heart tissue, for example," says McLeod.

"In one of our ongoing studies here at Rush, purified blood stem cells are injected right into the most diseased part of the heart to see if they'll promote new blood vessel or heart muscle growth," says McLeod. To learn more about this study, read "Study of Adult Stem Cells to Repair Damaged Hearts."

"Another area for exploration is stem cells from umbilical cord blood, which may provide a host of treatment capabilities," says McLeod.


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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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