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Pennington Scientists Turn Human Fat Cells Into Bone

Released: Friday, May 07, 2004

BATON ROUGE - Calling human fat a new and more abundant source of adult stem cells, Pennington Biomedical Research Center scientists have witnessed human fat stem cells convert into bone when slipped under the skin of mice.

Pennington center expert and senior scientist Dr. Jeffrey Gimble, working with Kevin Hicok and Dr. Lyndon Cooper at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and colleagues from Artecel Sciences, found that adult stem cells isolated from human fat can form bone. Their latest findings, published this week in the journal Tissue Engineering, are among the first experiments where human fat stem cells convert to bone once implanted into a live animal. A paper appearing in the same issue of Tissue Engineering from a Danish team led by Dr. Moustapha Kassem reports similar observations.

Stem cells, found in all animals, are unspecialized cells that have the ability to convert to many specific cell types. Researchers had earlier determined that various signals in a growing animal cause stem cells to develop into bone, nerve, muscle, fat and other tissue types. This process was recently duplicated in the lab. At the annual meeting of the Orthopedic Research Society in February, 2004, Gimble and his colleagues at Duke University announced the results of experiments which demonstrated that individual stem cells in human fat, under the right biological environment, could turn into muscle, cartilage, bone or perhaps even nerve cells. Now, researchers have seen the results in a live animal.

"Because human fat is abundant and simple to obtain by liposuction, this finding holds the promise that patients in need of bone grafts could potentially use their own fat as a source of new bone cells," Gimble said. To grow human bone, Gimble and team extracted human fat through liposuction, identified and extracted just the stem cells and multiplied them in the lab. Next, they attached the growing stem cells onto a chip of artificial bone and implanted the chip under the skin of mice for six weeks. When Gimble removed the bone chip, he found the stem cells had converted to living human bone cells and had begun to grow on their own.

"These are exciting, but preliminary, findings", said Gimble. He cautioned that further experiments in animal models will be needed before this science can be used in a clinical setting.

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a branch of the Louisiana State University System focusing on the role of nutrition and diet in human health and disease.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Itis a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at the Center includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  The Center's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.