Human adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) have become an increasing interest to both stem cell biologists and clinicians because of their potential to differentiate into adipogenic, osteogenic, chondrogenic, and other mesenchymal lineages, as well as other clinically useful properties attributed to them, such as stimulation of angiogenesis and suppression of inflammation. ASCs have already been used in a number of clinical trials, and some successful outcomes have been reported, especially in tissue reconstruction. However, a critical review of the literature reveals considerable uncertainty about the true clinical potential of human ASC. First, the surgical needs that ASC might answer remain relatively few, given the current difficulties in scaling up ASC-based tissue engineering to a clinically useful volume. Second, the differentiation of ASC into cell lineages apart from adipocytes has not been conclusively demonstrated in many studies due to the use of rather simplistic approaches to the confirmation of differentiation, such as the use of nonspecific histological dyes, or a small number of molecular markers of uncertain significance. Third, the ASC prepared from human lipoaspirate for different studies differ in purity and molecular phenotype, with many studies using cell preparations that are likely to contain heterogeneous populations of cells, making it uncertain whether ASC themselves are responsible for effects observed. Hence, while one clinical application already looks convincing, the full clinical potential of ASC awaits much deeper investigation of their fundamental biology.
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