Mature adult tissues contain stem cells that express many genes normally associated with the early stage of embryonic development, when maintained in appropriate environments. Cells procured from adult tissues representative of the three germ layers (spinal cord, muscle, and lung), each exhibiting the potential to mature into cells representative of all three germ layers. Cells isolated from adult tissues of different germ layer origin were propagated as nonadherent clusters or spheres that were composed of heterogeneous populations of cells. When the clusters or spheres were dissociated, the cells had the ability to reform new, nonadherent spheres for several generations. When implanted in vivo, in association with biodegradable scaffolds, into immunodeficient mice, tissue containing cells characteristic of the three germ layers was generated. These findings suggest the existence of a population of stem cells in adult tissues that is quite different and distinct from embryonic stem cells that demonstrate a greater potency for differentiation across germ lines than previously believed. Such cells could potentially be as useful as embryonic stem cells in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
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