Simple switch turns cells embryonic

Research reported this week by three different groups shows that normal skin cells can be reprogrammed to an embryonic state in mice. The race is now on to apply the surprisingly straightforward procedure to human cells.

If researchers succeed, it will make it relatively easy to produce cells that seem indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells, and that are genetically matched to individual patients. There are limits to how useful and safe these would be for therapeutic use in the near term, but they should quickly prove a boon in the lab.

“It would change the way we see things quite dramatically,” says Alan Trounson of Monash University in Victoria, Australia. Trounson wasn’t involved in the new work but says he plans to start using the technique “tomorrow”. “I can think of a dozen experiments right now — and they’re all good ones,” he says.

In theory, embryonic stem cells can propagate themselves indefinitely and are able to become any type of cell in the body. But so far, the only way to obtain embryonic stem cells involves destroying an embryo, and to get a genetic match for a patient would mean, in effect, cloning that person — all of which raise difficult ethical questions.

Source:  Nature

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