Stem cell summit: Adipose tissue has more stem cells than bone marrow

Cover: New York stem cell summit '11.

Robin Young’s 6th annual Stem Cell Summit was held on March 1, 2011 in NYC. In attendance were scores of public and private stem cell companies. Presentations included: 21 adult stem cell companies, 3 embryonic companies, 7 device/ instrumentation companies, and a panel of medical experts discussing Spinal Cord Injury. Each company gave a 10-15 minute presentation.

For the past few years, Arnold Caplan, Ph.D, a leader in the world of stem cell therapy, has presented the keynote address to the conference. Dr. Caplan is professor of biology at Case Western and has authored more than 300 publications. Not only is he well known in academic circles, but he is no stranger to the biotech financial community, as he was the founder of Osiris Therapeutics (Nasdaq: OSIR), a publicly traded cell therapy company. According to his own disclosures, Dr. Caplan no longer has financial ties with Osiris, but he is involved with other cell therapy start ups. Here are some highlights from Caplan’s keynote entitled, The State of MSCs in 2011.

Changing the way we think about stem cells

“We are in a new era of how we should be thinking about stem cells.” Dr. Caplan described that we should think of the stem cell industry in two realms:

  1. Tissue Engineering
  2. Regenerative Medicine

He emphasized that the first phase of the cell therapy revolution has been focused on tissue engineering, whose main premise is using manufacturing processes to make stem cells differentiate into various lineages like bone, heart, or brain. However, Dr. Caplan proposed that the next phase of the cell therapy movement, known as ‘regenerative medicine’, will come from natural healing responses from the stem cell, not from the actual differentiation of stem cells into various cell lineages.

adipose tissue is an enormously potent source of autologous regenerative therapy.

– Arnold Caplan, PhD

More specifically, the REGEN revolution will come from your body’s own natural healing response which occurs when stem cells mechanically separate from blood vessels and release therapeutic molecules that your body takes cues from. Caplan stated that therapeutic uses would come from both cultured and uncultured stem cell sources, and cited uncultured adipose tissue as a potent source of autologous regenerative therapy.

What are Mesenchymal Cells (MSCs)?

Mesenchymal stem cells, also known as MSCs, are specific cells within a population of stem cells with certain surface markers. These “MSCs are the cells that are doing all the business of healing”. Dr. Caplan described how Mesenchymal cell population is largely a function of the number of blood vessels.

MSC's on blood vessel walls
MSC stem cells in their native state, resting within the wall of blood vessels.

The natural niche of mesenchymal cells is within the blood vessel wall. Thus, the more blood vessels, the more MSCs – and vice versa. In the scientific community, this thesis is largely expressed as: All MSCs are pericytes. Recent publications by Dr. Caplan have been devoted to this theme of how all MSCs are pericytes and helps one understand why stem cells provide vascularity to damaged tissue. In simplified terms–they are a source of vascularity or blood supply.

How do you activate MSCs?

MSCs are attached to the blood vessels. According to Dr. Caplan, the healing mesenchymal cells activate when they become detached from the blood vessel wall. This can occur with mechanical force, chemical force, or signaling mechanisms. In previous blog posts, we have described some mechanical conditions where MSCs become activated as they detach from the blood vessel wall.

What is magical about MSC activation?

When MSCs detach from the blood vessel wall they release a TON of cytokines and growth factors that, in essence, become a personalized drug store for your own body. What this means is that Big Pharma may need to rethink how they are doing things and get onboard the REGEN train.

The arrogance of bone marrow

Caplan recounted how bone marrow had been the de facto source of mesenchymal adult stem cells for decades. As was mentioned earlier, Dr. Caplan was involved in one of the first cell therapy start ups–Osiris. Dr. Caplan said that it always bothered him that “even though stem cells could be derived from other sources such as muscle, fat, heart, and brain- these other sources went largely ignored for years.”

Adipose fat has 300-500 fold more stem cells compared to bone marrow.

– A. Caplan, PhD

In a moment of jest, he referred to “the arrogance of those working with bone marrow.” Caplan explained that “as it turns out, the winner of MSC population is adipose tissue” explaining that per ml, adipose fat tissue has 300-500 fold number of healing mesenchymal stem cells compared to bone marrow. Adipose tissue can be derived from liposuctioned fat. He also detailed that a concentrated pellet of uncultured fat tissue, known as the stromal vascular fraction (SVF) of adipose tissue, is an ‘enormously potent source of autologous stem cell therapy’.

Existing Clinical Trials using MSCs

Dr. Caplan listed the many diseases which are currently in clinical trials with adult stem cell therapy. It’s an impressive list to say the least:

  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Asthma
  • Wounds, scars
  • Heart attack, MI
  • ALS
  • Paralysis
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Kidney failure
  • Meniscus repair and other orthopedic apps
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes

Potential treatment of sepsis

When the body doesn’t respond to antibiotics, a condition called sepsis can occur. This condition causes the body to shut down and often results in loss of peripheral limbs, shock, or even death. Dr. Caplan cited a recent publication which discovered the ability of MSCs to kill gram positive and gram negative bacteria. If this plays out therapeutically, it would mean MSCs could cure sepsis!

MSCs – a new meaning for the acronym

This new era is not about stem cell lineage, but what the stem cell does naturally in different tissue environments. Since MSCs are therefore site regulated, natural multi-drug delivery systems, they essentially become your body’s personal drug store. Dr. Caplan then proposed the following:

MSC = Mesenchymal Stem Cell => for tissue engineering
MSC = Medicinal Signalling Cells => for REGEN industry

Considering Dr. Caplan’s history, this promises to be a very interesting era for medicine and health care! We welcome your comments about this fantastic new era of regenerative medicine.

By Dr. Ricardo L. Rodriguez MD Board Certified Plastic Surgeon Cosmeticsurg Baltimore, Maryland Ricardo L. Rodriguez on American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

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14 thoughts on “Stem cell summit: Adipose tissue has more stem cells than bone marrow”

  • Ralph says:

    Dr. Rodriguez, Have you heard of GRAFIX? it is a skin type film and it regenerates skin in 6 to 10 days after a 3rd degree burns get more info here Grafix is a three-dimensional cellular matrix designed for application directly to acute and chronic wounds, including diabetic foot ulcers and burns. Flexible, conforming and immune neutral, this cellular repair matrix provides a rich source of viable, multipotent MSCs and growth factors directly to the site of the wound while the matrix protects the area from inflammation, scarring and infection. Grafix contains components that are beneficial for wound healing and tissue repair including: Allograft extracellular matrix (ECM) to provide 3-dimensional support for tissue repair; Growth factors and proteins to support cell migration, proliferation and maturation; and Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), fibroblasts and epithelial cells to coordinate the tissue repair process and secrete a variety of growth factors
    • Dr. Ricardo L Rodriguez says:

      Ralph: I did wound care for many years, and was the co-director at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center Wound Care Clinic. Our focus now is on stem cell research. I know you are located here in Maryland, and we would love to talk to you about using your GMP facilities for cultured MSC research.
  • Jessica Yisca Goldfeld-Katz says:

    Such giant steps are made through research!! Wonderful things are discovered. Hopefully - more great results will be helpful in managing cancer therapy. Thank you for the information.
    • Dr. Ricardo L Rodriguez says:

      Jessica: We pray everyday for progress, as our family has been struck by this scourge. In the meantime, I do what I can with stem cell research.
  • Cindy says:

    How can I get the book from the stem cell summit you are rerering. Can you help me with that, I will really appreciated. This was a great publication. Thanks
    • Dr. Ricardo L Rodriguez says:

      Cindy: The "book" we mention in our blogpost is a handout from a conference. It is not for sale anywhere. Just go to your local Barnes and Noble or Borders bookstore, there are many books on stem cells. You can also go tho the National Institute of Health Stem Cell website for more a lot of great info and illustrations. Thanks for reading our blog!
  • Surgery says:

    It is true that the volume of peer reviewed publications and research papers attesting to fat as an abundant source of stem cells has seen a tremendous increase in the past years.
  • Randy Westly says:

    its true stem cell research can be used to many applications, even in plastic surgery, where fat tissues need to be cultivate and reused.
  • Jeffrey Spiegel says:

    Stem cell research is the future of the medical industry. As much as the media might frown upon stem cell research it helps save lives.
  • MarkTheMeS says:

    I realize that this article is mostly intended for "insiders" with some medical knowledge, but, that does not mean many others won't read it, especially when it is spread through sources like Yahoo Buzz. That's why I would, respectfully, ask that headlines for such articles make it clear to the layperson that fetal stem cells are not being discussed. Too many people who just read the headlines see "stem cells" and immediately think "discarded fetuses" and then go-on to form or justify their political opinions based on faulty and incomplete information. Sure, it's not necessarily the writer's job to help form the readers' political opinions in a technical article such as this, but it seems to me that making it clear right off the bat that the technology being discussed does not involve the controversy that comes with the whole "baby-killer" cry would only help to get people behind the kind of research mentioned. MeS™
    • CosmeticSurg Administrator says:

      Hello Mark, Thanks for pointing this out to us. We do forget that a lot of people do not know the two big divisions of stem cells: 1) embryonic 2) adult stem cells. We appreciate you taking your time to remind us. As you know, adipose tissue and bone marrow are NOT derived from embryos or aborted fetuses. Both of these sources are referred to as 'adult' stem cells and come from living humans. With stem cells, there are two divisions and you can really draw a line in the sand between the two camps. 1) EMBRYONIC Stem cells extracted from fetuses. Besides the terrible moral and ethical issues that go with this, these stem cells are extremely hard to control. In the science world this is referred to as 'undifferentiated stem cells.' This means that these embryonic stem cells can turn in to ANYTHING they want. The literature if FULL of instances where these embryonic stem cells turn into teratomas. Although great knowledge has been gained, I agree that is not a good thing on so many levels. 2) ADULT STEM CELLS These are stem cells that are extracted from living human beings. They are found in many tissues and organs, such as adipose tissue, bone marrow, cord blood, heart, brain, etc. Besides not having any moral issues, these cells are a lot more controllable because they are already partially defined down a pathway. Thousands of clinical trials have taken place with NO evidence of any safety issues. Therefore, this general category of stem cells, adult stem cells, is the wave of the future. It is safer, easier, and more effective. You can be sure that the first therapeutic therapies will come from adult stem cells. This article above was explaining that WITHIN the adult stem cell world, adipose tissue is the most prolific source of the healing stem cells, called mesenchymal cells. Bone marrow has gotten all the attention over the past few decades, but as it turns out, your own unwanted fat is an amazing reservoir of healing stem cells! It's a beautiful thing. Therefore, this is a happy time for medicine and for using cells from our own body, instead of manufactured drugs, to cure diseases. This is a turning point for medicine. The adult stem cell therapy world is referred to as REGENerative medicine. If this were Internet time, we would be in 1992. Get ready because this is going to get really fun and help a lot of people. :-) I have posted an abbreviated version of this post to Yahoo buzz. THANK YOU! More general info: Stem Cells From Fat - Plastic Surgery's New Frontier
  • Surgeon says:

    It bothers me how stem cell research has become so politicized. You never hear any of the good stuff like this, it's all half truths and agenda driven sound bytes, so people think that stem cell research means killing babies and that sort of thing.
  • Alexandra Condé Green says:

    Well definitely, these articles keep getting better. Keep us up to date, I am happy to see that we are all on the same road. CONGRATULATIONS.