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Breast-milk stem cells may bypass ethical dilemmas


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Peter Hartmann at the University of Western Australia in Crawley and his colleagues first announced the discovery of stem cells in breast milk in 2008. Now they have grown them in the lab and shown that they can turn into cells representative of all three embryonic germ layers, called the endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm – a defining property of embryonic stem cells (ESC).

"They can become bone cells, joint cells, fat cells, pancreatic cells that produce their own insulin, liver cells that produce albumin and also neuronal cells," says Foteini Hassiotou, a member of Hartmann's lab team, who led the recent work.

The breast cells also express the majority of protein markers that you would expect to find in ESCs. "What is really amazing is that these cells can be obtained in quite large amounts in breast milk," Hassiotou adds.

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