Researchers at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at UCLA were able to take normal tissue cells and reprogram them into cells with the same unlimited properties as embryonic stem cells, the cells that are able to give rise to every cell type found in the body.
The work, done in mouse models, appears in the inaugural June 7, 2007 issue of Cell Stem Cell, published by Cell Press. UCLA researchers, working closely with stem cell scientists at Harvard, took mouse fibroblasts, cells that develop into connective tissue, and added four transcription factors that bind to special sites on the DNA. Using this process, they were able to turn the fibroblasts into pluripotent cells that, in every aspect tested, were identical to embryonic stem cells.
The implications for disease treatment could be staggering. Reprogramming adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells could generate a potentially limitless source of immune-compatible cells for tissue engineering and transplantation medicine. If the work can be replicated in human cells, it may mean that a patients skin cells, for example, could be reprogrammed to become embryonic stem cells. Those embryonic stem cells could then be prodded into becoming various cells types beta islet cells to treat diabetes, hematopoetic cells to create a new blood supply for a leukemia patient, motor neuron cells to treat Parkinsons disease.
If we can recreate this in human cells, it has significant implications for regenerative therapies, said Kathrin Plath, an assistant professor of biological chemistry, a researcher with the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at UCLA (ISCBM) and co-lead author of the study. Our reprogrammed cells were virtually indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells. We could find no evidence that they were different in any way. We were rather surprised at how well this reprogramming worked.