Horses and humans

Here's a follow-up to my comments a couple of days ago on research with stem cells and injured horses.

Researchers who injected horses' injured tendons with bone marrow stem cells found that the horses were twice as likely to recover as those left untreated. They have suggested that the small number of uncontrolled--individual animal--studies be expanded into a full-blown study with more horses. According to the article in the U.K. Telegraph, the hope is that the results can be applied to human injuries in the future.

An interesting side note was that the discovery of the marrow cells capacity to form tendon cells was fortuitous--like the fabled discovery of penicillin:

It was thought that a combination of mechanical, physical and chemical cues are required to turn stem cells into tendon cells. But a chance discovery came when Prof Smith left a syringe of stem cells in an incubator.

After three weeks, a student wanted to throw the syringe away, since it contained what she thought was fungus.

But, the syringe contained tendon cells.

This illustrates one of the key results researchers at San Francisco also mentioned: stem cells (embryonic or adult) tend to differentiate rather than reproduce in culture. What we need to learn is what the switch is that tells the cell which to do.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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