Scientists in Barcelona generate stem cells without the need for embryos
Research into ‘third way’ stem cells has made a significant advancement towards their medical application with the recent discovery by the research team led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa based in the Regenerative Medicine Centre of Barcelona (CMRB). Juan Carlos Izpisúa and his team have obtained a certain type of stem cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from cells taken from the skin or hair of a patient. The significance of this finding is that these iPS are as versatile as embryonic stem cells. The group based at CMBR managed to obtain iPS cells from a patient suffering from a rare type of hereditary anaemia and correct the genetic defect in laboratory animals which are genetically identical to those of the patient.
Juan Carlos Izpisúa and his team have presented their findings in an article published in the scientific journal ‘Nature’. The group has spent two years trying to obtain iPS cells which in the future could be used to replace damaged cells from a patient.
The implication of this would be that the illness in the damaged cells could be corrected.
The research team based at CMBR has been working in collaboration with Juan Bueren in the Research Centre for Energy, the Environment and Technologies in Madrid (CEIMAT) together with Jordi Surrallés in the Universidad Autónoma of Barcelona – two Spanish research teams which are leaders into this particular type of anaemia (Fanconi anaemia).
The Discovery of iPS cells has revolutionized research into investigative medicine over the last few years and the objective of therapeutic cloning in the future is obtaining stem cells genetically identical to those of an adult. The iPS cells or pluripotent cells which are obtained are indistinguishable from those of embryonic stem cells and can be converted into any cell including aiding the production of an ovule or sperm cell.
The revolutionary technique is based, surprisingly on adding just four genes to hair or skin cells. However these genes are transcription genes which regulate other genes and are capable of confusing the genetic programme of certain cells (hair and skin cells) and return them to their pluripotent origins – a genetic configuration capable of converting itself into any other.
The technique of obtaining these cells is applicable to other human illnesses. For example skin cells from a patient with Parkinson’s disease by means of a simple biopsy could be converted to iPS cells and later on the specific neuron which is damaged in in this illness could be distinguished.
The objective of this research is not only the possibility of future transplants but the cultivation of these cells are in themselves a valuable tool which could be used to study an illness or to try out new medicine.
Izpisúa and Ángel Raya, insist that the results of this research is curing this type of anaemia in animals but that it is still a long way from being applicable to humans in a safe and efficient way.
Chris Mason from University College commenting on the findings said that Izpisúa’s research demonstrates a new method that could be used for the treatment of a rare hereditary disease. He also added that for this not to be an empty promise resources should be invested in the next stage which in his opinion is its practical clinical use in safe and economically viable conditions.