Stories of Medical Innovation

Urine-Harvested Stem Cells May Have Therapeutic Potential

Harvesting stem cells has been a challenge for scientists seeking to use stem cells for new therapies and treatments. But new research from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has identified stem cells in urine that can be used to develop multiple cell types.

The researchers, let by Dr. Yuanyuan Zhang, report in the journal Stem Cells of their success in directing stem cells from urine to become bladder-type cells. Zhang’s team believes the harvested stem cells could also be used to form bone, cartilage, fat, skeletal muscle, nerves and endothelial cells.

A Simple, Non-Invasive Way to Harvest Stem Cells

Because the stem cells are harvested from urine, obtaining them is a simple, non-invasive and cost-effective process. No surgical procedures are required and no embryonic cell sources are required.

“These stem cells represent virtually a limitless supply of autologous cells for treating not only urology-related conditions such as kidney disease, urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction, but could be used in other fields as well,” said Zhang. “They could also potentially be used to engineer replacement bladders, urine tubes and other urologic organs.”

Zhang and his team first identified these stem cells in 2006. Their findings, published online today in Stem Cells, build upon earlier studies and confirm the multipotency of the harvested stem cells. Additional findings include the establishment that the urine-derived stem cells do not form tumors in the body, which means they may be safe to use in human patients.

Origination of the Harvested Stem Cells

The researchers believe these stem cells originate in the upper urinary tract (including the kidney region). In fact, female study participants who received kidney transplants from male donors had the y chromosome in their harvested stem cells, which suggests the source of the cells is the kidney.

“Identifying the origins of the cells will lead to a better understanding of the biology of this multipotent population of mesenchymal cells within the urinary tract system,” said Zhang.