CEDAR KNOLLS, New Jersey (CNN) -- Researchers say they have found a new source for harvesting thousands of stem cells -- a woman's placenta.
Scientists at the biotechnology firm Anthrogenesis Corporation, also known as AnthroGen, have "discovered a unique multipotent stem cell in the placenta," company president and CEO John Haines said in a teleconference Wednesday. Haines said his company has also discovered a process to retrieve large quantities of these stem cells.
According to Haines, the potential source for these new stem cells is huge because there are four million births annually in the United States alone and after each birth a placenta is expelled.
"Since the stem cells in the placenta are so plentiful," Haines said, "we believe our process will make obsolete the need to use human embryos or aborted fetuses as source of embryonic stem cell research."
Vast research potential
Stem cells are essentially blank cells which have the potential to be programmed or turned into practically any type of cell, such as a nerve cell or liver cell or heart cell. Scientists say these cells have the potential to help treat or cure conditions like diabetes, paralysis, and Parkinson's disease.
Embryonic stem cells have the capacity to be turned into almost any type of cell, but harvesting them is highly controversial because they must come from aborted fetuses or embryos discarded by fertility clinics.
However, researchers are also finding that adult stem cells can be programmed to turn into a variety of cells such as blood, muscle, cartilage and nerve cells. The technique has been tried with cells from adult bone marrow, and just Monday, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pittsburgh announced they had successfully taken stem cells from fat retrieved by liposuction and turned them into bone, cartilage and muscle cells.
AnthroGen's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Hariri, said placental stem cells successfully matured into nerve cells, blood vessels, muscular cells, cartilage and bone cells.