5-Day-Old Dead People Great for Stem Cells

Bone-marrow cells have a variety of uses
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2012 2:55 PM CST
New Source for Stem Cells: Dead People
This corpse could be a fine source of stem cells.   (Shutterstock)

Even after five days, corpses are an excellent source of stem cells to replace fat, cartilage, bone, and other kinds of cells, New Scientist reports. A research team from the University of Miami, Florida, found it could mine mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from the bone marrow of finger bones stored for five days. What's special about this: MSCs can form different kinds of cells depending on where they are transplanted, forming healthy heart tissue when injected into a human heart, for example, and helping people with chronic heart conditions.

The research team was also able to extract far more MSCs from a cadaver than a living person: "From one [dead] donor, you could take the whole spine, for example," said Gianluca D'Ippolito, who led the study. "You are going to end up with billions of cells." But colleagues of D'Ippolito have expressed doubts, saying the cells' DNA may be adversely affected by dead surrounding tissue, and the process could run afoul of medical regulators. The concept isn't entirely new: Corneal stem cells from fresh corpses have been used to treat people blinded by scarring or injury. (Read more stem cells stories.)

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