for National Geographic News
Using leftovers from liposuction patients, scientists have turned human fat into stem cells, a new study says.
The new method is much more efficient than a previous practice that used skin cells, researchers say.
The discovery may also help avoid the controversy spawned by the use of stem cells from human embryos. (See stem cell research pictures.)
Human fat is "an abundant natural resource and a renewable one," said Stanford University plastic surgeon Michael Longaker, whose liposuction patients donated the fat for the study.
Longaker envisions a future in which doctors will be able to use fat from a patient to grow, in a lab, new tissues and organs for that patient.
The opportunity wouldn't be limited to the obese.
"Even if you're in great shape, there is still enough fat to be harvested from the vast majority of patients," added Longaker, who co-authored the study.
From Fat to Stem Cells to New Organs?
The reprogrammed cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, are capable of turning into most types of cells in the body.
Scientists are keen to obtain these cells to study disease and, one day, use them to grow new tissue and replacement organs.
Previously, researchers had shown that they could derive this type of stem cell from ordinary skin cells.
But the fat technique is about twice as fast and 20 times more efficient, said Joseph Wu, the study's senior author.
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