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Healing from stem to stern

Healing from stem to stern

Stem cells like these could be reintroduced into the person who produced them to help fight disease or be used for tissue engineering. Bioengineer Liping Tang has discovered that using medical devices such as catheters creates 200 times as many adult stem cells as previous methods of harvesting.

If you could cure any disease, what would it be? Cancer? Diabetes? Stroke? How about all of the above? UT Arlington bioengineering Professor Liping Tang and Ramesh Saxena, an associate professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, might have those choices if their research on stem cell production and harvesting continues to advance.

Liping Tang

Liping Tang, bioengineering professor

Dr. Tang and his UT Arlington team have discovered that using medical devices such as catheters creates 200 times as many adult stem cells as previous methods of harvesting. He says the adult stem cells created are multi-potent, meaning they have all kinds of functions. The discovery/technology has a patent pending.

"In our research, the stem cells recovered could be reintroduced into the same person who produced them to help fight disease," Tang says. "Those adult stem cells also can be used for tissue engineering and stem cell therapies."

Dr. Saxena, who is also a kidney specialist at UT Southwestern, says the discovery could have broad implications.

"We've already produced heart stem cells outside the body," he says. "We've also produced muscle, fat, nerve, and bone cells."

The project team eventually will look at dialysis patients, many of whom are diabetics. If the adult stem cells produced by the insertion of a catheter could be converted into insulin-producing cells, the process could help treat diabetes and kidney patients.

The researchers' collaboration was a natural fit. Saxena manages peritoneal dialysis, which inserts a catheter in a patient's peritoneum, and Tang's research inserts the catheter into mouse peritoneum. The peritoneum is the membrane that surrounds the abdominal cavity.

"One of the great things about the research is that the fluid obtained when we flush a catheter was material we usually threw away," Saxena says. "Now we find out it can produce stem cells that can be recycled, in a way."


The human body contains more than 200 types of cells that typically have unique functions, such as carrying oxygen, transmitting nerve signals, or making bone. These stem cells, however, don't have specific functions.

The new method could provide a less controversial way of creating stem cells than science that focuses on embryonic stem cells, which has fueled debate in the political and scientific communities. Tang discovered how catheters can stimulate stem cell creation while investigating how to make implantation of such devices safer and more comfortable for patients.

"Recovering adult stem cells in this way also is a painless method of harvesting the cells," he says.

Bone marrow is considered the most abundant source of adult stem cells, but fewer than 500,000 stem cells can be recovered from 15 milliliters of bone marrow fluid-the maximum amount from one human adult. Tang's method can yield more than 100 million stem cells from one patient.

Saxena says the research is far from finished.

"We have to do more testing," he says. "Preliminary reports have been encouraging. The new cells are going home into the site of an injury."

Tang says he could eventually see donors visiting an adult stem cell bank just like a blood bank. "Imagine people coming into the bank and getting adult stem cells for their spinal cord injury or diabetes. That would be marvelous."

- Herb Booth