Canadian researchers turn skin tissues into stem cells

March 2nd, 2009 - 11:26 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, March 2 (IANS) In a breakthrough in medical sciences, Canadian researchers have pioneered a new method to turn skin tissues into stem cells.
Stem cells, which have an unlimited capacity to regenerate themselves, hold clues to repairing damaged brain (Alzheimer’s), heart, kidneys, liver or other tissue, or even growing new organs for transplant one day.

This can lead to cure for many diseases, including diabetes, spinal cord injuries and Parkinson’s.

But till now, research on stem cells has been dogged by ethical reasons as they (stem cells) are available only from human embryos. During his eight years in office, former Us president George Bush didn’t give his nod to stem cell research as it involved destruction of human embryos from aborted foetuses.

But the new method developed by the Canadians researchers will sidestep the need for human embryos to generate stem cells. The new method will take tissues from your skin and transform them into a state similar to embryonic stem cells to cure you of many diseases.

Andreas Nagy of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, who led the research, said he hoped that “these stem cells (thus developed) will form the basis for treatment of many diseases and conditions that are currently considered incurable”.

Though American and Japanese scientists have recently turned human skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells, they were forced to use a virus to help re-programme skin cells to develop into a state similar to stem cells.

Their method risked damaging the DNA of the skin cells by the virus, raising the possibility of cancers.

But the method developed by Canadian researchers doesn’t carry such risks.

Without using any virus, they managed to push four re-programming genes into skin cells, thus changing them (skin cells) to an embryonic-like state.

After they had done their jobs, the genes were removed, eliminating any chance of development of cancer.

In their experiments on mouse and human cells, Nagy and his team used a jumping gene or piggyback - which is a mobile piece of DNA - which (in species like moths and corn) hops from chromosome to chromosome, inserting itself randomly into the genome.

Thus jumping genes create genetic variability in species, helping them to adapt to changing conditions.

Nagy and his team first inserted the four reprogramming genes into a jumping gene from a moth and then put the jumping gene into a skin cell. Once in, the jumping gene cut and pasted the stem cell genes into a chromosome in the skin cell.

Then the researchers “forced” the skin cell back to its embryonic state, giving it the capacity to regenerate itself into many types of cells.

The groundbreaking research was published Sunday in online Nature.

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