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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 Blackburn-Starza 
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...
2 June 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US have found a faster and more efficient way to reprogramme cells into embryonic-like stem cells so that they can be used to study genetic disorders such as sickle cell anaemia. The study was published in the...
12 May 2008 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The Upper House of the state of Western Australia has voted against legislation to permit the cloning of human embryos for research and to also allow surplus embryos to be donated for medical research following IVF. The bill, which if passed would have brought the state in...
6 May 2008 - by Evelyn Harvey 
Heart and blood cells can be grown from reprogrammed mouse skin cells, report University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers in the journal Stem Cells. The researchers say this is the first demonstration that stem cells from reprogrammed skin can be used to generate three types of...
21 April 2008 - by Evelyn Harvey 
An international panel of experts has argued that political 'interference' in scientific research should not be based solely on moral or ethical concerns. The Hinxton Group, a group of 40 scientists, bioethicists, lawyers and regulators formed in 2006 to address reproductive technology and policy concerns, made the...
14 April 2008 - by Evelyn Harvey 
Nerve tissue derived from stem cells made from reprogrammed skin developed into normal brain tissue and relieved symptoms of Parkinson's disease in rats, in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) last week. Scientists at the Whitehead...
19 February 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Japanese researchers announced last week that they have advanced their understanding and ability to safely 'reprogramme' adult stem cells to resemble embryonic stem (ES) cells without inducing tumours or harmful genetic abnormalities. The Japanese team of researchers, lead by Dr Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, reprogrammed liver...
3 December 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Last week's announcement that two teams of researchers, led by Dr Shinya Yamanaka at Japan's Kyoto University and Professor James Thompson at the University of Wisconsin in the US, had managed to 'reprogram' human skin cells into what they term induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has re-ignited...
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