New technique finds a faster way to change one cell type into another

By | August 28, 2008

New technique finds a faster way to change one cell type into another

Harvard researchers have transformed one type of pancreas cell in living mice into another – the insulin- producing cells that are destroyed in type 1 diabetes – potentially giving stem cell scientists a powerful new way to one day grow replacement tissues for patients.

The technique, which the researchers said improved diabetic symptoms in the mice, is faster than another pioneering method, in which scientists turn mature adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells that have the capacity to become any cell in the body.

The new technique, reported online yesterday in the journal Nature, is years away from having benefits for diabetic patients, according to Douglas Melton, a co-author and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. But other researchers said it was an exciting demonstration that could spur scientists to think more broadly about converting mature cells of all types into another type in the same organ – taking, for example, a bit of heart tissue and transforming it into cardiac muscle.  …

Two years ago, Japanese scientists altered stem cell science with their report that it was possible to reprogram a cell, turning it into an embryonic-like stem cell called an iPS cell, which was capable of turning into any cell in the human body. Melton’s team has shown it’s possible to skip that stem cell-like state altogether.

Melton and colleagues painstakingly identified which genes were likely to trigger the cell switch by sorting through more than 1,000 genes and winnowing them down to ones that played a role in the development of insulin-producing cells. They found that by injecting viruses carrying three genes into mice, they could turn the pancreatic cells into beta cells that produce insulin. – boston

Nice bit of bio hacking.

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