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Stem cells, show your face

A new test distinguishes embryonic stem cells and those with equal therapeutic potential from other, less capable stem cell types.

Stem cells’ unassuming, bloblike appearance makes them hard to identify, but new research offers a way to blow their cover.

The technique can distinguish embryonic stem cells — which are pluripotent, meaning they can become any kind of cell in the body — from “adult” stem cells that reside in people’s organs and have a much more limited repertoire.

Using the new test,  Jeanne Loring of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and her colleagues also provide fresh evidence that stem cells made by “reprogramming” a person’s skin cells without ever making or destroying an embryo are truly pluripotent, just like embryonic stem cells.

The findings, reported online August 24 in Nature, suggest that these reprogrammed, embryonic-like stem cells could be used for future stem cell therapies in place of embryonic cells, which are more controversial because they are extracted from embryos.

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