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Mothers and Offspring Can Share Cells Throughout Life
Date:5/2/2008

SEATTLE, May 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Cutting the umbilical cord doesn't necessarily sever the physical link between mother and child. Many cells pass back and forth between the mother and fetus during pregnancy and can be detected in the tissues and organs of both even decades later. This mixing of cells from two genetically distinct individuals is called microchimerism. The phenomenon is the focus of an increasing number of scientists who wonder what role these cells play in the body.

A potentially significant one, it turns out. Research implicates that maternal and fetal microchimerism plays both adverse and beneficial roles in some autoimmune diseases as well as the prevention of at least one cancer. This double-edged sword in turn has opened new avenues of study of the body's immune system and the possibility of developing new tests and therapies.

Two of the world's leading researchers in microchimerism are J. Lee Nelson, M.D., of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Clinical Research Division; and V.K. Gadi, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington. Nelson also is a professor of medicine at the University of Washington. Gadi is also a research associate in the Hutchinson Center's Clinical Research Division.

In 2007, they were the first to report these potentially beneficial effects of microchimerism:

-- In January, Nelson reported the first discovery that cells passed from mother to child during pregnancy can differentiate into functioning islet beta cells that produce insulin in the child. The same study also found maternal DNA in greater amounts in the blood of children and young adults with Type 1 diabetes than their healthy siblings and a control group, implying that the cells may be attempting to repair damaged tissue. There was no evidence that the mother's cells were attacking the child's insulin cells and no evidence that the maternal cells were targets of an immune
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SOURCE Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
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