The use of stem cells will likely revolutionize medicine. Stem cells have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. They can theoretically replenish other cells and thereby serve as a reservoir of new cells as well as a mechanism to repair damage. When a stem cell divides, each new cell can either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function. Stem cells can be obtained from embryos, however ethnical concerns have limited research. Stem cells are also found in many adult tissues; recently we and others have found that the bone marrow is a rich source of these cells with the potential to produce multiple cell types in addition to blood cells. We have shown that stem cells present in the bone marrow can give rise to endometrial cells in the human uterus. This transdifferentiation may be important to normal uterine physiology and for pregnancy or may be primarily a response to injury.
In addition, abnormal stem cell differentiation to endometrial cells in the wrong location may explain some cases of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a common cause of pain and infertility in which endometrial cells grow in locations outside of the uterus. Occasionally these cells are found in locations far removed from the uterus. They may arise from stem cells. Understanding stem cell differentiation may not only help to repair tissue, but also lead to treatment of diseases where this process has gone awry.
Currently research is being conducted on the mechanisms that drive transdifferentiation of stem cells in the uterus. The physiologic and potential therapeutic roles of these cells are under investigation.
- Taylor HS. Endometrial cells derived from donor stem cells in bone marrow transplant recipients. JAMA 2004, 292(1):81-85.