"We Can Get Cells That Perfectly Ressemble Embryonic Stem Cells"
6 Jun, 2007 07:00 pm
Researchers have reprogrammed skin cells into embryonic stem cells. This new technique could be used to develop stem cell lines without use of controversial cloning methods. The study is published in the inaugural June 7, 2007 issue of Cell Stem Cell. Interview with Kathrin Plath, lead author of the report.
We take fibroblasts which are basically skin cells, put on four factors, which are transcription factors, bound to specific science in the genome (DNA) and turn off their expression. If we put these four factors on fibroblasts, the skin cells, then we can get cells that perfectly ressemble mouse embryonic stem cells.
We have been very amazed that we can put these four factors and reverse the phenotype of a skin cell to that of a mouse embryonic stem cell. We're now going to try and work on human cells. We'll try to understand the mechanism. This is very exciting. I think it opens up a new field of research.
To what extent does this technique remove the ethical barrier that hampers therapeutic cloning research?
Basically, you don't need to take an embryo and try to do something with it. Therefore, there is no problem with that respect. But on the other hand, if you want to employ that for the human reprogramming, at this point we don't have these four factors working yet. Therefore I strongly believe that we have to try everything to reprogram human cells, that is also human somatic cells, in addition to the four factors reprogramming.
How long could it take to replicate this technique in human cells?
It could be very quick if it's the same four factors. It may take a very long time, because it might require other factors and might just not be as easy as in the mouse system. It's not predictable. Therefore I'm arguing we have to still continue and push the cloning effort of human embryonic stem cells.
What are the implications for disease treatment?
If we're able to apply this reprogramming to the human system, then we could just take skin cells of a patient, put on the four factors and get human embryonic stem cells. The advantage of a human embryonic stem cell is that you can make it commit to any tissue cell type you want. You can make embryonic stem cells into a hepatocyte for the liver or into a muscle cell or a neuron. Then you could put this committed cell into a patient. If you know the cause of the disease, you can even repair the defect from the embryonic stem cell, commit the cell to a neuron and then put the neuron back in. There are huge applications for any disease that could benefit from regenerative, like transplantation medicine.
Interview by: Clementine Fullias
Kathrin Plath is a researcher at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at UCLA