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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pregnancy history overlooked in stem cell studies, Tufts researcher says

Stem cell researchers should consider whether a woman has been pregnant when they interpret results of stem cell transplantation trials, Dr. Diana Bianchi writes in a commentary in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Bianchi, who is chair of research in the department of pediatrics at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center, showed in 1996 that fetal cells persist in the blood of women who have been pregnant. In 2004 she reported that these cells appear to act like stem cells, traveling to injured organs in the mother and repairing them.

Fetal cells are "betwixt and between" adult and embryonic cells, she said in an interview. Embryonic stem cells are prized for their ability to become any kind of cell in the body. Adult stem cells are less capable of this kind of differentiation.

"It's not all adult versus embryonic stem cells," she said. "Fetal cells may have qualties that are intermediate between embryonic and adult cells. We are still testing the hypothesis that they have capabilities that may be closer to embryonic stem cells than adult stem cells."

Recent discoveries of stem cells in amniotic fluid-- another "bewtixt and between" situation -- fit in with her findings, she said.

Bianchi and her co-author, Nicholas M. Fisk of Imperial College London, reviewed 58 articles on the long-term fate of stem cells transplanted into sex-mismatched recipients. None of them reported whether the women who donated or received these bone marrow transplants had been pregnant, they write in their commentary.

Without knowing the pregnancy history of women involved in trials using bone marrow stem cells to treat disease, researchers cannot know whether fetal cells or adult cells are responsible for the results they are seeing, Bianchi said.

"It's important because it's a mixed population of the woman's bone marrow stem cells as well as cells from all the pregnancies she has had, including ones she might have terminated," she said. "It's just remarkable to me that this is not part of the paradigm."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:01 PM
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