A source of gut stem cells that can repair a type of inflammatory bowel disease when transplanted into mice has been identified by researchers. The findings pave the way for patient-specific regenerative therapies for inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis. The team first looked at developing intestinal tissue in a mouse embryo and found a population of stem cells that were quite different to the adult stem cells that have been described in the gut. The cells were very actively dividing and could be grown in the laboratory over a long period without becoming specialised into the adult counterpart. Under the correct growth conditions, however, the team could induce the cells to form mature intestinal tissue.
When the team transplanted these cells into mice with a form of inflammatory bowel disease, within three hours the stem cells had attached to the damaged areas of the mouse intestine and integrated with the gut cells, contributing to the repair of the damaged tissue. "We found that the cells formed a living plaster over the damaged gut. They seemed to respond to the environment they had been placed in and matured accordingly to repair the damage. One of the risks of stem cell transplants like this is that the cells will continue to expand and form a tumour, but we didn't see any evidence of that with this immature stem cell population from the gut."