Researchers have found that stem cells can remain alive in human corpses for at least 17 days after death, and there’s no doubt that while they are potent, it can be extremely rare.
For example, the potent cells only present in small numbers in tissue samples from patients and difficult to distinguish from other cell types in many cases. As such, scientists are investigating novel ways to procure stem cells and improve the viability of the ones they can get.
Past research had suggested that stem cells could actually survive in up to 2-day-old cadavers, but researchers had thought that dead bodies would be poor homes for any cells, lacking the oxygen and nutrients the body’s cells need to stay alive. Nevertheless, histologist and neuropathologist Fabrice Chrétien at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and his colleagues were curious to see how long stem cells might keep ticking after a person died.
The researchers only had access to remains 17 days old, suggesting they have not yet seen the limits that stem cells ca reach. “Maybe they can also resist longer,” Chretien told LiveScience.
The cadavers in question had been kept at 39 degrees F to keep from rotting. The stem cells the researchers isolated give rise to skeletal muscle, the kind connected to the bones, as opposed to the kind in the heart or other internal organs.
Apparently the stem cells were able survive in the total absence of oxygen. “These cells are so resistant to extreme and deleterious conditions that they stay alive up to 17 days after death,” Chretien said.
The researchers also recovered viable stem cells from mice 14 days after death. These cells appeared to function properly after they were transplanted into living mice, helping regenerate damaged tissues.
A better understanding of this dormancy could help lead to new ways to keep stem cells viable for longer periods for therapeutic purposes. They could also shed light on how cells in general respond to injuries and other traumas, Chretien said.