Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reprogramming cells

In a study featured on the cover of the May issue of The FASEB Journal, researchers describe how they are able to reprogram human adult skin cells into other cell types in order to decipher the elusive mechanisms underlying reprogramming.

To demonstrate their point, they transformed human skin cells into mouse muscle cells and vice versa. Their methods included fusing the different cell types, so that their nuclei could chemically communication with each other. This research shows that by understanding the regulation of cell specialization it may be possible to convert one cell type into another, eventually bypassing the use of stem cells to achieve similar goals.

"Regenerative medicine provides hope of novel and powerful treatments for many diseases, but depends on the availability of cells with specific characteristics to replace those that are lost or dysfunctional," said Helen M. Blau, Ph.D., the senior scientist involved in the study, Associate Editor of The FASEB Journal, Member of the Stem Cell Institute, and Director of the Baxter Laboratory in Genetic Pharmacology at Stanford. "We show here that mature cells can be directly reprogrammed to generate those necessary cells, providing another way besides embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells of overcoming this important bottleneck to restoring tissue function."

This is a useful bit of new information that might make our next discussion of cell differentiation . . . or the next stem cell use debate . . . a bit more interesting. Not that our discussions and debates are anything but interesting!

For the rest of the story, see the full press release:

Stanford scientists turn adult skin cells into muscle and vice versa
Contact: Cody Mooneyhan
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Public release date: 30 Apr 2009
For the original research article, see:
Nuclear reprogramming in heterokaryons is rapid, extensive, and bidirectional
Adam Palermo, et al.
FASEB J. 2009 23: 1431-1440; published online as doi:10.1096/fj.08-122903
[Some contents of the above material are adapted from the press release.]

Meanwhile, on a similar investigative front, researchers recently showed that cells can be reprogrammed in a way that induces them to become pluripotent stem cells by treating them with a combination of proteins. The resulting induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells can produce a variety of different cell types in the body (but not embryonic tissue).

This work gives even more weight to the concept that adult cells can perhaps be reprogrammed at will, for therapeutic purposes, using chemical signals rather than direct genetic manipulation.

Check out these resources:
Purely protein pluripotency
Elie Dolgin
The Scientist 23 April 2009
[Summary article of the original research; has a great image of iPS cells]

Metastable Pluripotent States in NOD-Mouse-Derived ESCs
Jacob Hanna, et al.
Cell Stem Cell 7 May 2009
[Original research article outlining the method used to induce pluripotency in adult cells.]

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