THURSDAY, April 23, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have converted adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells by using chemical programming instead of genetic manipulation.
Gene manipulation is an older method that has posed the risk of serious health problems such as cancer, the researchers explained.
The ability to make stem cells without genetically altering them could lead to the development of many new types of therapies for a wide range of diseases, including type 1 diabetes and Parkinson's disease, the team noted.
"We are very excited about this breakthrough in generating embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts [cells that give rise to connective tissue] without using any genetic material. Scientists have been dreaming about this for years," research leader Sheng Ding, an associate professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said in a Scripps news release.
Ding and his colleagues reprogrammed adult cells by engineering and using recombinant proteins, which are proteins made from the recombination of fragments of DNA from different organisms. They experimented with these proteins until they found the exact mix that enabled them to gradually reprogram the adult cells.
The reprogrammed embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts behaved the same as embryonic stem cells in terms of molecular and functional features, including differentiation into various cell types, such as neurons, pancreatic cells and beating cardiac muscle cells.
The study, published online April 23 in the journal Cell Stem Cell, was supported by Fate Therapeutics.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.