The progress on induced pluripotent stem cells continues. Until now, the only way to turn a skin cell into a stem cell was to use genes to “reprogram” the cell. Now, it has been done with chemicals in mouse studies. From the Nature story:
Scientists have demonstrated a new way to reprogram adult tissue to become cells as versatile as embryonic stem cells — without the addition of extra genes that could increase the risk of dangerous mutations or cancer. Researchers have been striving to achieve this since 2006, when the creation of so-called induced pluripotent (iPS) cells was first reported. Previously, they had managed to reduce the number of genes needed using small-molecule chemical compounds, but those attempts always required at least one gene, Oct4.
Now, writing in Science, researchers report success in creating iPS cells using chemical compounds only — what they call CiPS cells . . .
If it the technique is found to be safe and effective in humans, it could be useful for the clinic. It does not risk causing mutations, and the compounds themselves seem to be safe — four of them are in fact already in clinical use. The small molecules can easily pass through cell membranes, so they can be washed away after they have initiated the reprogramming.
No embryos. No cloning. Already good for use in drug and disease testing.
The step I am hoping for — already done experimentally — is direct reprogramming from skin cell to, say, heart cell. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say, “Stem cells? We don’t need no stinkin’ stem cells!”?