Adult Stem Cell Miracle Breakthrough Reported in Canada

With Carl Limbacher and Staff

For the story behind the story...

Tuesday August 14, 2001; 2:20 p.m. EDT

Adult Stem Cell Miracle Breakthrough Reported in Canada

In a development that could halt the political momentum behind embryonic stem cell research, a scientist working at Montreal's McGill University has made the first-ever discovery of human stem cells in the skin of adults.

The findings of Montreal Neurological Institute researcher Freda Miller, first published Monday in the scientific journal "Nature Cell Biology" are generating "huge" interest in the scientific community, according to the Montreal Gazette -- though the American media has by and large ignored the miraculous breakthrough.

"The dream scenario would be to take someone with spinal cord injuries, say an 18-year-old, take a biopsy from their skin and use that to treat the injury in the same patient," Miller told the Gazette, which noted that her discovery may even facilitate the regrowth of human organs.

Before Miller's find, scientists believed that adult stem cell research would never be as productive as the embryonic variety, since adult stem cells are found only in the brain and bone marrow.

"(Skin-derived stem cells were) just not on the radar screen in terms of the way any of us were thinking," Miller told the Gazette. "The idea of lots of stem cells in different tissue is a very, very new one. Can it be true that you could get a stem cell from one place and it would make another kind of cell? We didn't believe it ourselves."

The medical implications of Miller's discovery are "enormous," the paper said, especially as they relate to the embryonic stem cell debate in the U.S.

"Opinions vary but the prevailing view in North America seems to be that obtaining stem cells from human embryos, even to cure diseases, is considered immoral. The embryo is destroyed in the process."

But Miller's research opens the door to a world of new, far less controversial possibilities.

"We gave it two months," the Montreal scientist said of the research into skin-derived stem cells. "But it worked right from the beginning. Every step of the way it's been an 'I can't believe that it's true' experience."

The McGill University research team found that its isolated cells began growing in grape clusters and duplicating "at an amazing speed" -- once every two or three days.

What's more, the skin-based adult stem cells were able to produce different types of cells.

"It was almost a hybrid or a more promiscuous version of those adult stem cells," Miller told the Gazette, adding, "It's very exciting."

Still, despite the enormous scientific and medical potential of the McGill University discovery, more than a day after the Gazette report, the U.S. media continues to ignore the story.

In its Tuesday edition, the New York Times, for instance, was still touting the wonders of embryonic stem cell research, with a front page story on the progress made in Britain.

In the U.S., only the Washington Times and the Christian Broadcasting Network have covered Miller's findings.

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