OT WSJ New Promise for Stem Cells Advance May Lead One Day to Way to Repair Tissue in Humans
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Researchers in Spain have transformed mature cells into a primitive, stem-cell state inside the bodies of mice. If the approach can be refined for humans, it may be possible to treat diseases such as diabetes and heart ailments by creating fresh tissue inside a living patient.
The long-term dream of stem-cell science has been to transplant lab-made tissue into patients, but despite years of experiments the quality of such tissue remains poor. An alternative approach is to make the fresh tissue inside the bodies of patients instead.
That isn't easy to pull off. Converting cells in a mature, living body into stemlike cells "means turning back the clock when everything in the environment favors the opposite," said Manuel Serrano, a researcher at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center and lead author of the study. "We were shocked" that the experiment worked.
But the research also yielded a Frankenstein-like outcome: stem-type cells created in this manner went on to produce spheres similar to a mouse embryo.
"It's really quite striking," said George Daley, a stem-cell researcher at Children's Hospital Boston, who wasn't involved in the study. "It means that every cell in the body may have the potential to regenerate a new organism."
The results were reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Scientists in the past have managed to change one type of mature cell in a mouse's body into another, albeit in a modest way. Pancreatic cells involved in digesting food have been turned into cells that produce insulin. One type of blood cell has been turned into another. Cells vital to the structure of the heart have been turned into those that beat.
But the new research went further. Dr. Serrano and his colleagues began with mice that had been genetically engineered to produce four genes that are known to convert mature cells to an embr