In the wake of the federal governments recent decision to limit embryonic stem cell research to existing cell lines, Canadian scientists announced they have discovered a new, noncontroversial source of stem cells. Researchers at McGill University isolated adult stem cells able to differentiate into a number of cell types from the skin of mice. Their results appear in the September issue of the journal Nature Cell Biology.

The researchers isolated cells from the deeper layers of skin, or dermis, of juvenile and adult mice. When cultured, the cellstermed SKPs, for skin-derived precursorsgenerated a variety of different cell types, including neurons, muscle cells and fat cells. "We believe our discovery is important as we have identified an exciting new stem cell from a noncontroversial source that holds considerable promise for scientific and therapeutic research," says co-author Freda Miller.

The newly discovered cells are distinct from other adult-derived stem cells, such as those originating from bone marrow, and retain their ability to morph into diverse cell types for up to a year, the scientists report. The team tested human skin to determine if it could generate SKPs and concluded that "similar precursors may be present within adult human skin." If human cells can be exploited for therapeutic treatments, Miller says, "complications seen in donor transplantations are avoided as the patient's own cells are being transplanted."