Researchers devise new technique for creating human stem cells

Researchers have developed a new technique for creating human embryonic stem cells by fusing adult somatic cells with embryonic stem cells. The fusion causes the adult cells to undergo genetic reprogramming, which results in cells that have the developmental characteristics of human embryonic stem cells.

This approach could become an alternative to somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a method that is currently used to produce human stem cells. SCNT involves transferring the nuclei of adult cells, called somatic cells, into oocytes in which scientists have removed the nuclei.

The researchers said that -- while the technique might one day be used along with SCNT, which involves the use of unfertilized human eggs -- technical hurdles must be cleared before the new technique sees widespread use. It is more likely that the new technique will see immediate use in helping to accelerate understanding of how embryonic cells "reprogram" somatic cells to an embryonic state.

The researchers published their findings in the August 26, 2005, issue of the journal Science. Senior author Kevin Eggan and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Douglas A. Melton, both at Harvard University, led the research team, which also included Harvard colleagues Chad Cowan and Jocelyn Atienza.

In theory, researchers can induce embryonic stem cells to mature into a variety of specialized cells. For that reason, many researchers believe stem cells offer promise for creating populations of specialized cells that can be used to rejuvenate organs, such as the pancreas or heart, that are damaged by disease or trauma. Stem cells also provide a model system in which researchers can study the causes of genetic disease and the basis of embryonic development.

Eggan, Melton and their colleagues decided to pursue their alternative route after other researchers had shown that genetic reprogramming can occur when mouse somatic cells are fused to mouse embryonic stem cells

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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