"It was a very elegant, very sophisticated study," said Dr. Shlomo Melmed, dean of the Medical Faculty and director of the Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles.
"A lot of scientists are trying to do this. This is a very hot topic in endocrinology. They've taken a leap forward -- this has leapfrogged groups working on pituitary development," said Melmed, a long-standing endocrine researcher.
Melmed agreed that the research suggests that now, theoretically, pituitary patients can one day be treated with stem cells.
"This is very important clinically, but there are likely years of animal research to be translated into humans. If it's done successfully, it could be a wonderful breakthrough, especially for children with genetic pituitary dysfunction (dwarfism)," Melmed said. Adults who suffer from pituitary failure due to head trauma, tumors, and head and neck radiation, could be helped, too.
Sasai said the researchers do plan to apply the new findings to human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, often referred to as iPS cells. "We hope to develop an efficient method for human pituitary production over the next few years," he said.
There are many questions to be answered before human studies are embarked upon, though, said Vates, including how many and where to transplant the hormone-making cells.
Sasai said in this study, the amount of tissue to transplant was examined only empirically, in other words, by trial-and-error.
This type of stem cell research might even eventually help sort out answers to other endocrine mysteries, said Vates. "Everyone thinks of stem cells and transplantation and helping people with pituitary loss, but the other thing this type of science can help us start to figure out is why do some people
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