Another Breakthrough in Adult Stem Cell Research
Special Report - October 23, 2008
Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies recently announced that they have managed to rapidly increase the production of induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells by using a new process that only requires a single human hair. The findings, which are published in the October online edition of the journal, Nature Biotechnology, are important because they improve upon the current method for producing IPS cells, which are adult stem cells that are reprogrammed to mimic embryonic stem cells with the potential to become another type of cell in the body. According to the Salk researchers, the current process for generating IPS cells, which uses cells derived from adult skin, is “woefully inefficient” because “only one out of 10,000 cells can be persuaded” to act like embryonic stem cells. Instead, the Salk research team generated IPS cells from keratinocytes taken from a single human hair. Keratinocytes are “cells that form the uppermost layer of skin and produce keratin, a tough protein that is the primary constitute of hair, nails and skin.” The new method resulted in the production of more IPS cells (one out of 100 cells instead of one out of 10,000) in only 10 days (it typically takes three to four weeks). The Salk researchers then took the keratinocyte-derived IPS cells and reprogrammed them “to become all the cell types in the human body, including heart muscle cells and dopamine-producing neurons, which are affected by Parkinson's disease.”
“Having a very efficient and practical way of generating patient-specific stem cells, which unlike human embryonic stem cells, wouldn’t be rejected by the patient’s immune system after transplantation, brings us a step closer to the clinical application of stem cell therapy,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, the director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, Spain, who led the Salk research team. “We checked a whole rainbow of cells and found keratinocytes to be the easiest to be reprogrammed. It is still not clear exactly why that is, and knowing it will be very important for the technology to develop fully.”
“With all the breakthroughs that induced pluripotent stem cells have given medicine, it is difficult to understand why researchers would continue to push so hard for embryonic stem cell research,” said Matt Lytle, director of research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “The fact is, stem cells taken from adults have yielded over 70 medical breakthroughs that are helping patients today. Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, have yet to yield any treatments.”
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