A revolutionary stem cell treatment that imitates how salamanders grow limbs raises hopes for damaged tissue regeneration, as revealed by a study in the United Kingdom.

Researchers from University of New South Wales (UNSW) have developed a new method to form stem cells from fat cells, which could someday become the foundation for a "repair system" of tissue regeneration in humans.

The repair system is very similar to how salamanders re-grow their limbs, so scientists believe they could use the method to heal everything from bone fractures to spinal discs. It could also transform existing treatment options into regenerative medicine.

Study lead author John Pimanda and his colleagues took fat and bone cells and applied two compounds into these cells, turning them into "multipotent stem cells" (iMS).

The team extracted human fat cells and treated them with compound 5-Azacytidine (AZA) and platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB) for 48 hours. One of these compounds allowed scientists to switch off the memory of fat and bone cells.

After two days, the bone and fat cells were treated with PDGF-AB alone over the course of two to three weeks.

When the multipotent stem cells were transplanted into damage tissue, Pimanda said the cells took their cue from the surrounding cells when multiplying and repaired the damaged cell types.

"This technique is a significant advance on many of the current unproven stem cell therapies," said Pimanda, adding that most therapies have shown little or no objective evidence that they contribute directly to formation of new tissues.

What's next for the researchers? Pimanda said they are currently investigating whether adult human fat cells turned into iMS cells can safely and effectively mend damaged tissue in mice. Human clinical trials are expected to begin in 2017, he said.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ralph Mobbs will be leading the human trials as soon as the efficacy and safety of the repair system in mice is ensured.

Mobbs said the therapy can potentially treat muscle and joint degeneration, neck and back pain, as well as spinal disc injury. It could also quicken recovery from complex surgeries where joints and bones need to integrate with the body.

The team's findings are featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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