Stem cells make older cows young again

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jul 25, 2005
by WLJ

Scientists may have found a literal “fountain of youth” which could result in older, proven cows regaining their younger production levels.
Researchers at Advance Cell Technology, Worcester, MA, recently concluded a study in which 10- to 13-year-old cows were injected with cloned stem cells harvested from the livers of embryonic calves. The results of the study, published in the June 2005 issue of Cloning and Stem Cells, showed the treated animals reverted back to their younger form, particularly from a reproductive and mammary standpoint.
In the study, scientists treated older cows with a small dose of embryonic stem cells, the equivalent of a tablespoon. Prior to injection, the cells were tagged with a genetic marker to enable tracing as the cells moved through and interacted with the body. Stem cell traces were later detected throughout the study animals in new “giant” colonies of white blood cells and regenerated blood vessels in the cows. This cellular growth is consistent with very young cells, and not found in animals of this age class.
“The cells are so competitive and youthful that they just take over,” said Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, who conducted the study.
This research could have a future impact on the livestock industry as more researchers study potential seedstock applications for the technology. At present, most experts feel that stem cell treatment is far too expensive for agricultural applications and research has been limited primarily to government-funded medical research programs.
The benefits of using stem cells to treat a range of human diseases are well known by scientists. Doctors have been studying the use of stem cells to treat illnesses from arthritis and genetic diseases to cancer for more than 14 years. Scientists are interested in stem cell therapy because the cells have a remarkable ability to transform themselves into other types of tissue cells found in the body and can actually regenerate tissue as demonstrated in this study.
Additionally, stem cell transplants do not present the same risks associated with conventional treatments, such as bone marrow transplants, which require the use of harsh drugs to suppress the recipient’s immune system in order to prevent rejection of the transplanted marrow.
Although the methodology used in this experiment is not consistent with current protocols used for human studies, the results are being viewed as a positive step toward understanding the interactions of stem cells in large animal models. — John Robinson, WLJ Associate Editor

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