updated 4/3/2006 5:55:37 PM ET 2006-04-03T21:55:37

German scientists say cells from the testes of mice can behave like embryonic stem cells. If the same holds true in humans, it could provide a controversy-free source of versatile cells for use in treating disease.

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Embryonic stem cells can give rise to virtually any tissue in the body and scientists believe they may offer treatments for diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

But to harvest the cells, human embryos must be destroyed. Some religious groups and others oppose that.

The new research into testicular cells, published online Friday by the journal Nature, comes from Dr. Gerd Hasenfuss of the Georg-August-University of Goettingen in Germany and colleagues.

Lab tests found that the mouse cells closely mimicked the behavior of embryonic stem cells, Hasenfuss said Friday. He said he is optimistic about finding human testicular cells that will do the same. Work has already begun on that, he said.

If such cells are found in men, "then we have resolved the ethical problem with human embryonic stem cells," he said in a telephone interview.

That would also open the door to removing testicular cells from a male patient, growing some tissue the patient needs, and transplanting that tissue into the same man without fear of biological rejection, he noted.

The mouse cells were found to give rise to a variety of specialized cells in the lab, including heart cells that contracted and nerve cells that produced dopamine, the chemical messenger that Parkinson's patients lack, he said.

Cells typical of the liver, skin, pancreas and blood vessels were produced as well, he said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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