New route to stem cell therapy opens up
Stem cells and muscle cells have been created from adult skin cells using a new method that is both quicker and more efficient than its predecessor. It is also likely to be safer
The technique makes induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which have the same capacity as primordial embryonic stem cells to turn into every tissue of the body, but do not involve the use of embryos. What's more, it doesn't involve tinkering with the skin cells' DNA, and so gets round one of the main obstacles to using this technique in people.
"Our technology does not alter the DNA of the host cells, so completely eliminates the risks associated with DNA-based vectors which can integrate into the cell's DNA and possibly lead to cancer," says Derrick Rossi of the Children's Hospital Boston in Massachusetts, head of the team that developed the new method.
Other stem cell researchers have hailed this is a breakthrough. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, calls it a game-changer. "If repeatable, it would solve some of the most important problems in the field," he says.
To create iPSCs, the skin cells from which they are made need to be reprogrammed to an embryonic state by exposing them to extra amounts of four critical gene switches, called KLF4, c-MYC, OCT4 and SOX2.
Since iPSCs were first made in 2006 by Japanese pioneer Shinya Yamanaka, the main way of doing this has been to infect skin cells with a virus which implants the four genes that make the control switches into the DNA of the skin cell. But because the virus inserts the genes randomly into the skin cell's DNA, there is a risk of accidentally activating cancer-causing genes, making the method too risky for clinical use.
Rossi and his colleagues got round this problem by adding messenger RNA (mRNA) copies of the four genes to the fluid within cells, where they are made directly into the four switches. The DNA of the skin cell is unchanged.
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