What Defines a Stem Cell?

For the past three years, researchers at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands have been painstakingly cataloging and mapping all the proliferating cells found in mouse hearts, looking for cardiac stem cells. The elusive cells should theoretically be able to repair damaged heart muscle, so the stakes in finding them have been high. Indeed, that search, involving many labs over decades, has been marked by heated debate and, recently, a call for the retraction of more than 30 papers for falsified data. This week, however, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is scheduled to announce the results of the Hubrecht team’s work: no evidence of cardiac stem cells at all.

That conclusion, which confirms a long-standing suspicion among some in the field, cuts to the heart of a deeper question—about what

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