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It is not just Australian nose tissue that provides a source of stem cells; according to new research from the US, hair follicles will do it too.

Scientists at AntiCancer Inc and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered that stem cells harvested from mouse-whisker follicles will grow into all kinds of useful things. They successfully grew skin cells, smooth muscle cells, neurons and other nerve cells known as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, and pigment producing cells called melanocytes, Reuters reports.

The researchers said that one day it could be possible to harvest stem cells from a person and use them to grow a tissue transplant. Those with receding hairlines should not worry - the benefits of this research will not be restricted to the more hirsute in the population as there are plenty of hair follicles elsewhere on the body.

Stem cells have the potential to become any kind of cell in the body, and it is this flexibility that prompts many scientists to believe stem cell research could lead to cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's. It could also help people with spinal injuries.

But the research has been highly controversial: one of the best sources of stem cells is bone marrow, which is as inoffensive as it is inaccessible, but another is human embryos. Although the UK allows for therapeutic cloning of embryos (for research), the US has lobbied hard for a ban. The news of more alternative sources of the cells will surely be welcomed by those keen to avoid the debate about the morality of using human embryos.

The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Related stories

Oz boffins grow stem cells from nose
UK to gain stem cell 'network'
UN approves human cloning ban

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