for National Geographic News
Scientists have derived potentially therapeutic stem cells from adult, human testicles—a development that may eventually make new medical treatments possible while avoiding moral dilemmas.
Stem cell generation for individual therapies could address a wide range of ailments, including Parkinson's disease, leukemia, and spinal cord injuries.
So far, the most versatile human stem cells have come from embryos—fertilized eggs—that critics say should not be used in scientific research because they are potential humans.
(Read about the stem cell divide in National Geographic Magazine.)
Study co-author Thomas Skutella, of the University of Tübingen in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and his team isolated stem cells from adult, human testicles and cultivated them to become pluripotent cells, which can develop into many other types of cells.
"In the sense that they become pluripotent, they are like embryonic stem cells," Skutella wrote in an email.
A major breakthrough was made in 2006, when several research teams harvested stem cells from the testicles of adult mice.
Duplicating the feat in humans had proved elusive prior to research published online this week in Nature.
Japanese researchers announced in August that they had isolated stem cells in adult, human teeth, but the team's work was not peer reviewed.
"As you might imagine, this is a pretty significant step forward," said Chad Cowan of Harvard University's Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology.
Cowan is unaffiliated with the research.
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