New stem cell therapy pioneered

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Medical School researchers John E. Wagner, M.D., and Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D., in collaboration with researchers in Portland, Oregon, the United Kingdom, and Japan have for the first time used stem cells from bone marrow to repair the skin of patients with a fatal skin disease called recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, or RDEB. This is the first time researchers have shown that bone marrow stem cells can home to the skin and upper gastrointestinal tract and alter the natural course of the disease.

“Whether stem cells from marrow could repair tissues other than itself has been quite controversial,” said Wagner, director of pediatric blood and marrow transplantation and clinical director of the Stem Cell Institute. “But in 2007 we found a rare subpopulation of marrow stem cells that could repair the skin in laboratory models. This astounding finding compelled us to test these stem cells in humans. This has never been done before.”

“This discovery is more unique and more remarkable than it may first sound because until now, bone marrow has only been used to replace diseased or damaged marrow – which makes sense,” said Tolar, associate professor of pediatric transplantation. “But what we have found is that stem cells contained in bone marrow can travel to sites of injured skin, leading to increased production of collagen which is deficient in patients with RDEB.”