Hybrid Cells Behave Like Embryonic Stem Cells
A flurry of recent articles report that scientists at Harvard have turned "ordinary skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells--without having to use human eggs or make new human embryos in the process."
Well, not quite. The stem cells were extracted from embryos that were previously destroyed:
The Harvard researchers used laboratory grown human embryonic stem cells _ such as the ones that President Bush has already approved for use by federally funded researchers _ to essentially convert a skin cell into an embryonic stem cell itself.According to the Harvard team, the hybrid cells had many of the characteristics of embryonic stem cells. "The authors conclude that human embryonic cells have the ability to reprogram adult cell chromosomes following cell fusion. "
Now researchers must figure out how to remove the genetic information that was contributed by the embryonic cells in order to help the hybrid cells "differentiate," or grow into another type of tissue that can be used to treat disease.
HT: LTI Blog
Here is the press release:
Harvard Stem Cell Institute
August 22, 2005: A new study by Kevin Eggan, Douglas Melton, and colleagues offers hope that it might be possible in the future to produce embryonic stem cells without using human embryos. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers will report in the Aug. 26 edition of the journal Science that it may be possible by fusing two cells together to some day produce cells with the properties of embryonic stem. The researchers caution, however, that many daunting challenges must still be overcome and the promise of their work should not be seen as a reason to slow present research efforts.
Current stem cell research has generated controversy because it involves the destruction of human embryos, or it requires women to donate unfertilized eggs. In therapeutic cloning, a nucleus from an adult cell (for instance, a skin cell) is injected into unfertilized egg whose own genetic material has been removed. The egg reprograms the skin cell nucleus to an embryonic state, allowing it to initiate the development of an early embryo without the need for fertilization. As researchers in Korea have recently shown, the resulting embryos can be used to make embryonic stem cells that are genetically identical to the skin cell donor. But that method is technically difficult, involves the use of embryos, and because it requires donated human eggs, it is unlikely that it could ever be scaled up for widespread clinical use.
The HSCI researchers have taken a quite different approach, fusing an entire skin cell to an existing embryonic stem cell. The result is a hybrid cell with two sets of genetic material, one from each parent. Using sophisticated 'DNA chip' technology, the Harvard team was able to show that cell fusion causes thousands of genes from the skin cell to be reprogrammed to an embryonic state. Even more striking, they found that the fused hybrids retain many of the properties of embryonic stem cells, including the ability to differentiate into multiple adult cells types.
This is an important result because it suggests that adult cells could some day be converted into embryonic stem cells without using human eggs and without creating cloned human embryos. But if this kind of reprogramming is really possible, it is likely to take many years and many further studies, on embryos as well as hybrid cells, before this technique offers an alternative method of producing stem cells.
Posted August 22, 2005 10:47 AM