Page URL:

Reprogramming stem cell breakthrough

26 November 2007
Appeared in BioNews 435

Two groups of scientists have managed to 'reprogramme' skin cells, retuning them to an embryonic-like state in which they regain the potential to develop into any type of body cell. The studies, published in the journals Cell and Science, pave the way for new research aimed at generating genetically-matched cell therapies for a range of debilitating diseases. One of the teams, lead by Dr Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan, used skin cells taken from the face of a 36-year-old woman. The other group, lead by Professor James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin, used immature skin cells taken from a human fetus and the foreskin of a newborn baby boy.

The Japanese team first achieved success in reprogramming adult mouse cells, in a landmark study reported last year. They transformed the cells by ramping up production of four key mouse genes identified as being key to the reprogramming process, called Oct4, Sox2, Klf4 and c-Myc. Now, the team have treated human cells with the human versions of these genes to achieve the same effect. The resulting 'pluripotent' cells are similar - but not identical - to embryonic stem cells (ES cells), and the researchers were able to use them to produce brain and heart tissue. 'These cells should be extremely useful in understanding disease mechanisms and screening safe and effective drugs', said Dr Yamanaka.

The US group used a slightly different cocktail of factors, but they too managed to produce the versatile cells, dubbed 'iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cell. They produced eight new stem cell lines for use in research. Since both techniques rely on the use of viruses to introduce the crucial genes, they are not suitable for clinical applications. An accompanying comment piece in Cell also stresses that the groundbreaking studies do not circumvent the need for further research on human ES cells, saying it would be 'a big mistake' to consider human ES cells obsolete, and that 'many hurdles' need to be overcome before iPS cells can be used therapeutically. It concludes that ES cell research is 'more important than ever', since it will shed light on how iPS cells can be maintained in their flexible state, and how they can be persuaded to grow into different tissues.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the UK's National Institute for Medical Research, said the work was 'very exciting', but added that 'it doesn't remove the need to do the cloning approach but if it really works as well as it might, it's going to make it a lot easier to make pluripotent, patient-specific stem-cell lines'. He went on to say: 'We always said there was a hope that research would lead to direct reprogramming to avoid the use of embryos. This has just come sooner than any of us thought. This unpredictability is one of the fantastic things about science, and it is the reason that research avenues should always be open'.

Miracle in a test tube as human skin is turned into heart and brain cells
The Independent |  21 November 2007
Skin cells transformed without embryos
Reuters |  20 November 2007
Skin transformed into stem cells
BBC News Online |  20 November 2007
7 December 2009 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
Researchers at the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), lead by Professor Rudolf Jaenisch, have identified genetic pathways that can speed up the process of reprogramming mature adult cells into stem cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells)....
2 March 2009 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Researchers in the UK and Canada have successfully created induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells suitable for potential future use in humans. iPS cells are adult cells (in this case skin cells) that have been reprogrammed into a pluripotent embryonic-like state, able to divide into any cell in...
22 September 2008 - by Ben Jones 
The Japanese Patent Office has granted the first patent for induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) to Kyoto University, where researcher Shinya Yamanaka produced both the first non-human iPS cells in 2006 and, using the same process, the first human iPS cells in 2007.The Japanese patent...
1 September 2008 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
Researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston, USA, have successfully transformed one type of adult cell in to another cell type in live mice, according to a study published in the journal Nature. The cells created were insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas - the cells...
12 August 2008 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
Scientists at Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the University of Washington in the US have generated 10 stem cell lines from the skin of patients with specific genetic disorders, including muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, juvenile diabetes and 'bubble boy disease', a rare immunodeficiency disease. The...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.