Scientists hail stem cell breakthrough
SCIENTISTS HAVE taken another important step towards producing replacement tissues for the body using stem cells. A group in Germany has developed a simpler way to produce these cells using just one special factor instead of the usual four.
The work helps build knowledge of how to produce the most powerful or “pluripotent” stem cells but new treatments using them are still some distance into the future, according to stem cell specialist Dr Stephen Sullivan.
Prof Hans Schöler led the work at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine and details are published this morning online by the journal Nature.
Pluripotent stem cells have huge potential to treat diseases because they are a kind of universal starter-cell, capable of becoming any of the 200 or so cells found in the body.
The best pluripotent cells are found in the developing foetus, but there are immediate ethical issues given they can only be recovered by destroying the foetus. Therefore researchers are trying to find ways to change other types of cells including adult cells into pluripotent stem cells.
Prof Schöler converted human fetal brain stem cells into pluripotent cells using just one special factor called OCT4.
Late in 2007, Prof Shinya Yamanaka and colleagues of Kyoto University announced he had used four special factors to turn human adult cells into pluripotent cells, the first to have accomplished this.
The question remains, however, whether these artificially produced stem cells will perform like natural pluripotent cells, stated Dr Sullivan, the chief scientific officer of the Irish Stem Cell Foundation, which will be formally launched towards the end of September.