WASHINGTON – Cells taken from human testicles seem as versatile as the stem cells derived from embryos, researchers reported Wednesday in what may be yet another new approach in a burgeoning scientific field.
The new type of stem cells could be useful for growing personalized replacement tissues, according to a study in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature. But because of their source, their highest promise would apply to only half the world’s population: men.
Embryonic stem cells can give rise to virtually any tissue in the body, and scientists believe they may offer treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes, and for spinal cord injuries.
“The advantage these cells have in comparison to embryonic stem cells is that there is no ethical problem with these cells and that they are natural,” said study lead author Thomas Skutella, a professor at the Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine in Tuebingen, Germany.
Using testicular cells isn’t the only promising method that avoids embryos; there have been impressive experiments in reprogramming ordinary body cells into stem cells by slipping certain genes into them.
The new findings and the reprogrammed cells – which still have technical hurdles – “take some pressure off the stem cell issue,” said White House science adviser Jack Marburger.
Earlier studies showed promise using so-called spermatogonial cells from the testes of mice. The new study used cells taken from biopsied tissue from 22 different men undergoing various medical treatments. The men ranged in age from 17 to 81. Researchers found that after a few weeks of growth, the cells could differentiate into various types of cells just like those taken from embryos.
“We could do it for males; that leaves women without as easy a method,” said stem cell scientist George Daley of Children’s Hospital in Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He was not part of the new research.
Skutella said a female equivalent could be in women’s egg cells, but Daley said that’s unlikely because of the makeup of those cells.