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Researchers produce human stem cells from adult skin cells

The process could lead to new treatments for diseases by using a patient’s own DNA, rather than embryonic stem cells
The process could lead to new treatments for diseases by using a patient’s own DNA, rather than embryonic stem cells
Robin Wulffson, MD

Scientists at the Research Institute for Stem Cell Research at CHA Health Systems in Los Angeles have produced human stem cells from adult cells. The process could lead to new treatments for diseases by using a patient’s own DNA, rather than embryonic stem cells. The findings were published online on April 17 in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The investigators used a technique known as somatic-cell nuclear transfer, or therapeutic cloning, whereby embryonic cells genetically identical to a donor are created. If confirmed by other studies, it could prove to be a significant advance because many illnesses that might one day be treated with stem cells, such as heart failure and vision loss Patient-specific stem cells would be created from older cells, not infant or fetal ones. Patient-specific cell lines from the skin cells of two adult men. However, the process needs refinement. Out of 39 attempts, the researchers were successful only once for each donor.

In therapeutic cloning, scientists use a jolt of electricity to fuse a grown cell, usually a skin cell, with an ovum (egg) whose own DNA has been removed. The ovum divides and multiplies, and within five or six days it develops into an embryo. The interior cells are “pluripotent” stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any kind of human cell. The goal is to grow these embryonic stem cells in laboratory dishes and coax them to develop into specialized cells for therapeutic use against an illness the DNA donor has, such as heart disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or type 1 diabetes. The cells are genetically identical to the donor's; therefore, they would not be rejected by the immune system.

Other researchers have produced pluripotent stem cells from skin cells. In December 2011, scientists at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA announced that, by using a specially designed facility, they had reprogrammed human skin cells to be pluripotent and then differentiated them into neurons, using animal origin-free reagents and feeder conditions throughout the process. The Broad center researchers also developed a set of standard operating procedures for the process, so other scientists can benefit from the derivation and differentiation techniques performed under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) protocols. GMP protocols are tightly controlled and regulated so the cells created meet all the standards required for use in human beings. Currently, four significant stem cell projects are underway at UCLA.