Researchers at Harvard and Advanced Cell Technology are reporting that they have been able to turn ordinary skin cells into stem cells by dousing them with the proteins made by four specific genes. The researchers were then able to turn the stem cells into mature cells of various tissues. This work is building off the discovery last year that adult cells could be reverted to embryonic stem cell-like state by integrating four specific genes that previous research had found were active in embryonic stem cells. Because the genes were added using viruses to produce these induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells researchers worried that they might have a high potential for turning cancerous.
The new breakthrough would seem to be an end run around the cancer problem. As Reuters reports:
The team at Harvard University and Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology Inc(ACTC.PK) said their technique involves soaking cells in human proteins that turn back the clock biologically, making the cells behave like powerful embryonic stem cells.
Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell sees almost immediate commercial applications.
"After a few more flight tests—in order to assure everything is working properly—it should be ready for commercial use," Lanza said by e-mail. …
"This method eliminates the risks associated with genetic and chemical manipulation, and provides for the first time a potentially safe source of iPS cells for translation into the clinic," Lanza said.
"This is the ultimate stem cell solution—you just add some proteins to a few skin cells and voila! Patient-specific stem cells!"
If this proves out, regenerative medicine would get a huge boost because such cells would be a source for rejection-proof transplant cells and tissues that could be used to repair the damaged organs of each individual patient.
Whole Reuters article here.