Researchers have provided clues about a potentially new source of human stem cells that are physically close to the actual embryo, but miles away from the controversy surrounding its use in research. Last night, at the linkurl:Keystone meeting; on stem cells, linkurl:Ursula Manuelpillai; at the Monash Institute of Medical Research in Victoria, Australia presented a poster in which they detail the potential of human amniotic epithelial cells (HAECs) in the inner membrane that protects the fetus during pregnancy. The researchers exposed HAECs to factors that nudge them to differentiate into cell types. Indeed, the cells displayed markers that suggest they differentiated into a variety of cells, such as astrocytes, neurons, hepatocytes, and pancreatic cells. "I?m not saying the cells are pluripotent, but they certainly have the markers of pluripotency," Manuelpillai told me. HAECs did not produce teratomas in mice testes -- an initially disappointing result, Manuelpillai said, since teratomas are...

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