Researchers isolate stem cells in lab

Organ transplantation, genetic therapies, and even the treatment of diabetes, paralysis, and AIDS could receive major advances in the future thanks to recent breakthroughs in research studies.

Human stem cells, the blank cells that can develop into virtually any kind of cell within the human body, have been successfully grown in the laboratory. Stem cells differ from other cells in that they have not yet gone through the differentiation process that makes them specific to certain functions, such as liver cells, skin cells, and brain cells.

Using stem cells for any purpose, however, is at least a decade in the future. That’s because scientists still don’t know how to customize the blank’ stem cells and give them a specific function.

Lead researchers James Thomson of the Univer sity of Wisconsin in Madison and John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say stem cells could be used in scenarios including the following:

• growing nerve cells to repair spinal injuries and restore function to paralyzed limbs;

• growing heart muscle cells to replace useless scar tissue following a heart attack;

• making brain cells that would secrete dopa mine for the treatment and control of Parkinson’s disease.