Since the replacement of the hematopoietic system became feasible through bone marrow (BM) transplantation, the idea of how to replace other organs of the body has been in the forefront of medical research. Scientists have been searching for the ideal stem cell that could be manipulated to differentiate into any tissue. Although the embryonal stem cells seemed to have the ability to do this, the difficulties surrounding their use prevented them from becoming therapeutically useful. Thus, the field turned to adult stem cells, particularly stem cells of BM origin. We have learnt a lot during the last decade about the potential of the BM-derived stromal (also called mesenchymal stem) cells (BMSCs). The first studies suggested them as cell replacement tools, but later it turned out that their usefulness is more likely due to paracrine effects due to a large variety of secreted factors that induce growth and differentiation of the tissue-specific stem cells as well as prevent injured cells from apoptotic death. Finally, a whole new field emerged when many groups confirmed that these cells are also capable of regulating immune function in a so far unknown, dynamic manner. When BMSCs are injected they seem to be able to sense the environment and respond according to the actual need of the organism in order to survive. This plasticity can never be done by the use of any drugs and such a “live” cell therapy could open a whole new chapter in clinical care in the future. J. Cell. Biochem. 112: 2683–2687, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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